Hundreds of Women in Belarus Arrested by Riot Police

Published September 20th, 2020 - 09:04 GMT
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, claimed to have defeated opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya with 80 percent of the vote in the August 9, elections. TUT.BY / AFP
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, claimed to have defeated opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya with 80 percent of the vote in the August 9, elections. TUT.BY / AFP
Belarus rocked by mass street protests since President Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory

Riot police arrested hundreds of women today in the Belarusian capital of Minsk during a 'Sparkly March' protest calling for an end to President Alexander Lukashenko's rule.

Around two thousand women took part in the demonstration, wearing shiny accessories and carrying red-and-white flags of the protest movement. 

Officers blocked the women and began dragging them into police vans as they stood with linked hands, swiftly detaining several hundred.  

Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, has been rocked by mass street protests since Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in an August 9 presidential election that his opponents say was rigged. He denies their accusation.

Saturday's protesters, most of them women, earlier briefly scuffled with police who then blocked their path and started picking people one by one out of the crowd, the witness said.

In one location, dozens of female protesters could be seen encircled by men in green uniforms and black balaclavas outside a shopping mall as they shouted: 'Only cowards beat women!'

Among the detained was 73-year-old opposition activist Nina Baginskaya, who has become an icon of the protest movement after scuffling with armed policemen last month.

One female protester was taken away in an ambulance after lying on the ground, apparently unconscious.

Lukashenko's crackdown on the protests has prompted the European Union to weigh fresh sanctions against his government.

The president, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, says the protesters are being backed by foreign powers. Earlier this month he secured a $1.5billion lifeline from Moscow.  

Lukashenko has blamed the United States and its allies for fomenting the weeks of unrest following his landslide re-election to a sixth term last month.

'We are forced to withdraw troops from the streets, put the army on high alert and close the state border on the west, primarily with Lithuania and Poland,' Lukashenko said while addressing a women's forum, adding that Belarus' border with Ukraine also would be strengthened.

But the national Border Guard Service said all border checkpoints remained open, though it said controls and inspections have been strengthened.

A spokeswoman for the Polish Border Guard, Agnieszka Golias, said traffic at Poland's border with Belarus was as busy as usual. Lithuanian authorities also reported no changes.

Mr Lukashenko's main challenger in the election, former English teacher and political novice Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, dismissed Lukashenko's claims as part of his efforts to denigrate protesters and to blame foreign influences for the outpouring of anger toward him and calls for his resignation on the streets of Belarus.

'Lukashenko already has tried to scare us with enemies that don't exist. He has accused peaceful people of being engaged in violence and tried to cast the true patriots as traitors,' Ms Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement.

'But his talk yesterday about closing the borders marks a new level of distancing from the reality. It was a talk by a weak person about his own imaginary world.'

She urged Belarusians to ignore Mr Lukashenko's bluster, emphasising that 'all our neighbours are our friends'.

Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius voiced concern over Mr Lukashenko's statement about beefing up troops on the border.

'This is an inadequate response of an inadequate person to the situation,' he told public broadcaster LRT Radio.

The United States and the European Union have criticised the presidential election as neither free nor fair and urged Lukashenko to start talks with the opposition - a call he has rejected.

Washington and Brussels have been pondering sanctions against Belarusian officials for alleged vote-rigging and the violent response to protests.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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