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AP photographer beaten, detained in Belarus

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September 18, 2012 02:38 PM EST | AP

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MINSK, Belarus — An Associated Press photographer was beaten and briefly detained Tuesday by plainclothes security officers in the Belarusian capital.

Sergei Grits was among eight journalists covering a protest by four opposition activists calling for a boycott of this weekend's parliamentary election when plainclothes security officers attacked them in downtown Minsk.

Grits said one of the men grabbed him by the neck from behind while another punched him in the eye, breaking his glasses and leaving a gash. They then pushed the journalists into a van without license plates and drove them to a police station, where they were held for two hours before being released without charges or explanation, Grits said. Police tried to delete images from their cameras, but some managed to save them.

"Such violence by police against a journalist peacefully going about his work is unacceptable and must be protested in the strongest possible terms," said John Daniszewski, AP's senior managing editor for international news. "We demand that the Belarus authorities look into the matter and take appropriate actions against the individuals involved."

Minsk police spokesman Alexander Lastovsky said he could not comment on the incident.

Belarusian authorities have shown little tolerance for dissent and media freedom under President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 10 million people since 1994. The United States and the European Union have imposed economic and travel sanctions on Lukashenko's government over its crackdown on opposition groups and independent news media.

The opposition activists who participated in Tuesday's picket have remained in custody, according to Valentin Stefanovich of Vyasna rights group.