Tens of Thousands Protest in Minsk, Call on Lukashenko to Step Down

Published September 21st, 2020 - 06:44 GMT
An opposition supporter wrapped in a former white-red-white flag of Belarus stands in front of law enforcement officers blocking the road during a demonstration called by the opposition movement for an end to the regime of authoritarian leader in Minsk on September 20, 2020. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched in the Belarusian capital of Minsk defying a heavy security force presence that included water cannons and armoured vehicles. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the e
An opposition supporter wrapped in a former white-red-white flag of Belarus stands in front of law enforcement officers blocking the road during a demonstration called by the opposition movement for an end to the regime of authoritarian leader in Minsk on September 20, 2020. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched in the Belarusian capital of Minsk defying a heavy security force presence that included water cannons and armoured vehicles. 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
Highlights
People were demanding veteran leader Lukashenko to step down, a day after police detained hundreds of women demonstrators.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have marched in the Belarusian capital, according to AFP news agency, in a bid to pressurise President Alexander Lukashenko's government.

Demonstrators holding red-and-white protest flags gathered for the "March for Justice" in Minsk, the latest in a series of mass protests held every weekend since the disputed re-election of Lukashenko on August 9.

More than 100 people were arrested, according to rights group Viasna. At least 80 were arrested in the capital Minsk and at least 47 others elsewhere in the country, notably in Gomel, Brest and Grodno.

People were demanding veteran leader Lukashenko to step down, a day after police detained hundreds of women demonstrators.

Many walked in a vast column that stretched back several kilometres, decked out in red-and-white opposition colours and chanting "go away" as helmeted riot police patrolled the streets with water canons on hand, a witness said.

Several protesters were dragged away from the crowd by security forces. In the city centre, riot police rhythmically beat their shields as a warning sound while several people threw glass bottles at them.

Videos shared by local media outlets showed security forces in helmets or masks hauling protesters off the streets in simultaneous protests in other cities.

Mass street protests have rocked Belarus since presidential elections, in which Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in a vote his opponents say was rigged.

Ahead of the rally, Belarusian authorities brought military trucks and barbed wire into central Minsk.

Belarusian opposition news sites posted video and photos of a convoy of military trucks and vehicles with rolls of barbed wire driving into the centre ahead of the demonstration.

The protest comes after riot police cracked down on peaceful women demonstrators on Saturday who were wearing shiny accessories for their so-called "Sparkly March."

They dragged protesters into vans, lifted some women off their feet, and carried them.

Government warns against protests 

Belarusian interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said on Sunday morning that police had detained 415 people in Minsk and 15 in other cities for breaking rules on mass demonstrations. 

She said 385 had been released.

Chemodanova warned Belarusians they could face criminal charges for organising such protests.

'Escalation of violence'

The number of detentions on Saturday was far higher than at a similar protest last week, prompting the opposition's Coordination Council to warn of a "new phase in the escalation of violence against peaceful protesters."

The aggressive police tactics prompted an opposition Telegram channel, Nexta, which has more than two million subscribers, to publish what it said was a list of the names and ranks of more than 1,000 police.

Protesters have sought to expose the identity of police who appear at demonstrations in plain clothes or in uniforms without insignia or name badges, trying to pull off their masks and balaclavas.

Russian support to Lukashenko

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claimed victory over Lukashenko in the polls and has taken shelter in Lithuania, on Saturday said Belarusians were ready to strip police obeying "criminal orders" of anonymity.

A female anchor on state television channel Belarus 1 criticised the women protesters on Saturday evening, asking: "How did these women get so aggressive? After all, nature intended them to guard their hearth."

The broadcast made no mention of police detentions.

Lukashenko has dismissed opposition calls for his resignation and sought help from Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who has promised law enforcement backup if needed and a $1.5 billion loan.

EU preparing sanctions 

Tikhanovskaya is set to meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday as the EU prepares sanctions against those it blames for rigging the election and the regime's violent crackdown on protesters.

Authorities have jailed many of Tikhanovskaya's allies who formed the leadership of the Coordination Council or driven them out of the country.

One of her campaign partners, Maria Kolesnikova, has been imprisoned and charged with undermining national security.

This article has been adapted from its original source.     


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