Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets Sunday of major Belarusian cities in the latest weekend of demonstrations following disputed elections that left longtime President Alexander Lukashenko in power.
Shouting “go away” and “you’re a rat,” members of the crowd waved red and white opposition flags.
At least 100 people were detained, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted the government as saying, while the Minsk-based Viasna Human Rights Center put the figure at more than 200. Protests and detentions in other cities were shown on local media.
Using military vehicles and water cannons, riot police and plain clothes officers wearing masks and wielding truncheons tried to contain the demonstrators, Reuters reported.
Footage from local media outlet TUT.BY showed a masked man beating a protester as he lay on the ground. Plain clothes officers could be seen smashing the glass door of a cafe to get at protesters sheltering inside, Reuters said.
“We ran into a cafe to hide from the riot police, they broke the glass, burst inside, pulled out three people, beat at least one,” Evgeny, a 28-year-old protester, told Reuters while waiters cleaned up the glass.
Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Karayev defended the actions of the security forces.
“They talk about the brutality of the Belarusian police, and I want to say this: there are no more humane, restrained and cool-headed police anywhere in the world,” he said, according to the official Belta news agency.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, claimed victory in elections August 9. Opposition parties, along with the United States and the European Union, say the poll was heavily rigged.
More than 7,000 protesters have been arrested, and widespread evidence of abuse and torture has been reported in the month of protests. At least four people were reported to have died during the demonstrations.
Belarus’ main opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been in Lithuania since the election for what she says is her own safety.
In an interview with VOA, Tsikhanouskaya said she is working to organize new elections despite Lukashenko’s refusal to do so.
“Our plan is absolutely clear. It’s organization of new elections, fair and transparent,” she said.
Voice of America – English