MOSCOW — Not so long ago, the image of Belarus was of a peaceful, if authoritarian, former Soviet republic, squeezed between Poland and Russia. Now the country's pro-democracy leaders are warning their country could turn into a North Korea in Europe: a state run by a dangerous, unpredictable leader who survives through fear and repression.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has been cracking down on his opponents since a presidential election in August. Mass protests broke out after Lukashenko declared himself the winner of a sixth term in office and forced his main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, into exile.

Lukashenko reacted with violence. According to the Belarusian opposition, more than 35,000 people have been detained since August — in a country of less than 10 million. Human rights activists in the country say there are more than 480 political prisoners.

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