Some 4,000 signatures submitted to authorities against Minsk government\'s plans for former Bernardine monastery

Each demonstration will differ from the previous one, he said. The September 16 demonstration will be a protest against politically motivated persecution...

Opposition activists on September 15 submitted about 4,000 signatures to the Apostolic Nunciature and the House of Representatives against the Minsk government's plans to convert a former Bernardine monastery complex into a hotel.

The signature sheets were delivered by Vital Rymashewski and Paval Sevyarynets, co-chairpersons of Belarusian Christian Democracy, and Mikola Dzemidzenka and Nasta Palazhanka, activists of an opposition youth group called Malady Front.

A total of 6,500 signatures were collected in Belarus between September 12 and 14, Mr. Sevyarynets told BelaPAN.

The nearly 1,500 signatures that had been gathered in the Hrodna region were submitted to authorities through Catholic parishes, he said. About 1000 signatures had to be mailed to the Presidential Administration after its officers refused to accept the signature sheets, he said.

BCD activists are set to stage daily demonstrations in front of the monastery complex in downtown Minsk starting September 16.

"We’ll keep up the protests until the authorities return the buildings to Catholics," Mr. Sevyarynets said.

Each demonstration will differ from the previous one, he said. The September 16 demonstration will be a protest against politically motivated persecution and one of the events traditionally held on the 16th day of each month to commemorate the unsolved disappearances of four opponents of the government, Mr. Sevyarynets said. The following day, singer-songwriters will give a concert in front of the complex, he said. Subsequent demonstrations will feature a painting session, a quiz on the history of Belarus, a lecture on religious buildings in Belarus and speeches by prominent people, he said.

Catholics have, since 2005, been pushing for the return of the 17th-century monastery complex, which was until recently used as a depository for archival materials.

More than 30,000 signatures were collected in 2007 for a petition urging the authorities to return the buildings to the faithful and protesting the Minsk city government’s plans to convert the complex into a recreational center.

The Russian Empire took away the monastery complex from the faithful in 1864 after suppressing the 1863-64 anti-Russian uprising.

Leanid Hulyaka, the government’s commissioner on religious and ethnic affairs, said in June that the complex might be returned to the Catholic Church, but three weeks later he pointed out reporters that the complex could not be returned because there was nowhere to move the Belarusian State Scientific and Technical Archives and the Belarusian State Art and Literature Archives.

However, Mikhail Zhykh, chief engineer with KUP Minskaya Spadchyna, a construction company run by the city government, announced in early August that the former monastery complex would be converted into a hotel and a museum by the 2014 World Ice Hockey Championship to be hosted by the Belarusian capital city.