Friday, April 16, 2021

Thousands of protesters march through Belarus, dozens detained | Europe

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Human rights group Viasna-96 says at least 106 people have been taken into custody, mainly in Minsk.

Thousands of protesters marched in the Belarusian capital, Minsk and elsewhere on Sunday, as weekly protests demanding the resignation of veteran President Alexander Lukashenko continued, prompting police to arrest more than 100 people.

Belarus, a country of 9.5 million that Russia sees as a security buffer against NATO, has been rocked by mass protests since the August 9 presidential election that Lukashenko said it won. His opponents say the vote was rigged and want him to resign.

Most of the protesters marched through the capital’s remote residential areas, clapping their hands, shouting “long live Belarus” and waving white flags with a red stripe in the middle, a symbol of the opposition.

“This [protest] works because it is impossible to rule the country when the majority does not accept you. With the demonstrations, we show that we are the majority, ”said one of the demonstrators Alisa, 21.

Military vehicles and water cannons were seen on the streets of Minsk, as men in uniform, many wearing helmets, grabbed people in civilian clothes, a witness said and videos posted on social media showed shown.

Belarusian rights group Viasna-96 (Spring 96) said at least 100 people were detained across the country on Sunday afternoon.

Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, has ignored the scale of the protests, saying they were sponsored by the West and showing little sign of willingness to engage in dialogue with the opposition.

‘Will not surrender’

The opposition claims the elections were rigged and that political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – who ran against Lukashenko in place of her imprisoned husband – was the real winner of the vote.

“Each march is a reminder that Belarusians will not surrender. We will not allow our rights to be taken away from us and we will not turn a blind eye to the crimes, ”Tikhanovskaya, 38, wrote on his Telegram channel from exile.

Authorities have imposed a strong crackdown in recent weeks, arresting hundreds of protesters and preventing rallies in central Minsk.

Riot police block Belarusian retirees at opposition rally to protest official presidential election results in Minsk [AP]

In response, Lukashenko’s opponents changed tactics, calling on supporters to gather in small groups in neighborhoods of the capital rather than staging massive marches in the center.

Local media reported that several dozen meeting points were scheduled for Sunday in Minsk and other cities.

In the first days of the August protests, Belarusian police arrested thousands of protesters, many of whom reported torture and abuse in custody.

The European Union has imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and a number of his allies for electoral rigging and violent crackdown on demonstrators.

Tikhanovskaya fled to EU member Lithuania shortly after the August elections. She has received the support of several Western leaders who refuse to recognize the election results.

Lukashenko, who has strong support from Moscow, refused to resign and instead suggested reforming the constitution as a way to appease the opposition.



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