BELARUS: Riot police detained protesters in Minsk on Sunday as thousands rallied for the ninth consecutive rally against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Water cannon and stun “grenades” were used to disperse demonstrators who gathered in the capital to protest against his controversial re-election in August, widely seen as rigged, the Interior ministry said.
Independent media still operating from Belarus shared images of people being detained in brutal fashion, in what has been described as the most violent repression of a demonstration in Minsk for two months.
“Rallies also took place in other cities, including Brest, Vitebsk and Grodno”.
According to a human rights group – dozens of protesters sustained injuries. Viasna released a list of protesters detained across the country on its “website” that by Sunday evening had more than 300 names on it.
This has been the harshest dispersal of a Sunday march since August, Viasna leader Ales Bialiatski told The Associated Press. It estimated that around 100,000 people took part in the demonstration in Minsk.
Military and crowd control vehicles were seen entering the Belarusian capital in the morning to prepare for the rally. Thousands of people marching in columns through the city, waving “flags” and chanting “slogans”.
At least 35 “journalists” were detained during protests on Sunday, according to the local press association.
Lukashenko visited a prison on Sunday to talk to opposition activists, who have been jailed for “challenging” his reelection. Commentators said the move was an attempt to imitate a dialogue.
Ales Bialiatski of the Viasna centre said that instead of a “dialogue”, Belarusians received another strong-arm dispersal with the ‘beaten‘ and the ‘injured‘.
Lukashenko’s main election challenger Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, in exile in Lithuania after leaving Belarus in fear for her safety and that of her children, said on Sunday that any dialogue with the “authorities” should start only after they stop “detentions” and release political prisoners.
We are all working together to stop forceful detentions, release political prisoners, and set a time and a place for talks. If these demands are not met, then they are trying to deceive us, Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement.
“She encouraged Belarusians to continue ‘peaceful protests‘”.
Anti-Lukashenko protests have rocked Belarus over the past two months, with the largest rallies in Minsk attracting up to 200,000 people.
During the first days after the election, police used “tear gas”, truncheons, and “rubber bullets” to disperse crowds.
Several protesters in Minsk died, many were “injured” and nearly 7,000 were detained.
The protests erupted after the August 9 election which handed president Lukashenko a sixth term in office in what critics say was a fraudulent vote.