In Minsk and other Belarusian cities, mass protests continue on day 71, starting after the Central Election Commission announced on August 9 that longtime authoritarian leader Lukashenko had again won the presidential election. The opposition, as well as the European Union and other states, did not recognize the result of the vote and demanded a new election.
Participants in Sunday’s demonstration, often equipped with a white-red-white flag as a symbol of the Belarusian opposition, chanted the slogans “Long live Belarus!”, “Free elections!” or “Lukashenko to the police Anton!”.
The white-red-white flag has become a symbol of the Belarusian opposition.
Foto: Stringer, Reuters
Police deployed heavy equipment, closed the streets adjacent to the march route, and used deafening grenades and water cannons against the protesters. According to the DPA, law enforcement fired rubber bullets into the air after protesters allegedly attacked them with stones. Three Minsk metro stations have been closed.
Interfax reported on mobile units of Belarusian police officers circling the city and arresting mostly lone protesters or smaller groups of opposition supporters. Journalists are among those arrested so far. Vyasna said 108 people were detained across Belarus on Sunday – mostly in Minsk, but also during anti-regime demonstrations in Brest, Vitebsk and other Belarusian cities.
Sunday’s protest takes place for the tenth weekend in a row, with Sunday demonstrations usually having the highest attendance.
Security forces have recently stepped up their crackdown on protesters, arresting 13,000 people since the protests began, according to Reuters. The Interior Ministry openly threatened this week with the use of firearms and sharp ammunition. The opposition, on the other hand, calls for peaceful protests and condemns the violence.
“This is the first march since the authorities threatened to use firearms. But even that did not stop the protests, which will take other forms, but will not die, “said the head of Vyasna, Ales Bjaljacki, according to the AP agency.
A protest march of women and students took place in Minsk on Saturday, during which 58 demonstrators were arrested, according to the Ministry of the Interior. In addition to the opposition, demonstrations by Lukashenko supporters were also seen on Saturday. Unlike those opposition, their rallies were allowed.
Opposition leader Sviatlana Cichanouska, who went into exile in Lithuania soon after the election, gave Lukashenko an ultimatum last weekend to resign and release all political prisoners by next Sunday. Otherwise, she said, she would face a nationwide strike that would cripple Belarus.
“A nationwide strike by all businesses will begin, all roads will be blocked, and sales in state-owned stores will collapse,” Cichanouská said in a statement. Protesters marched down a street in Minsk on Sunday, home to several factories and other businesses. They shouted slogans: “Strike!” or “The workers are with the people!”.