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Russian citizens on trial in Belarus

Reuters reports: Belarus has put on trial two Russians for taking part in street protests during the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in December, defying Moscow which has called for their release.

Artyom Breus and Ivan Gaponov last month pleaded not guilty to a charge of taking part in mass disturbances which carries a maximum of eight years in prison. They denied having links with the Belarussian opposition.

The two men were among several hundred people who were initially rounded up in a police crackdown on Dec. 19 on a Minsk opposition rally against Lukashenko, the day he was re-elected for a fourth term in power.

The opposition says the vote was rigged to ensure the continuing grip on power of Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994.

Russia, which provides Belarus with vital oil supplies for its refineries, says Breus and Gaponov were bystanders during the disturbances and should be released.