Belarusian Riot Police Break Up Election Protest
24 March 2006
Belarussian riot police arrested hundreds of protestors and took down their makeshift tent camp in central Minsk early Friday morning, ending a small but defiant movement againt hard-line President Alexander Lukashenko. But the main opposition leader says a new rally is planned for Saturday.
There was little resistance as about 100 black helmeted riot police surrounded the small camp and led the mostly young protesters into green trucks.
The action came at three o'clock in the morning local time and caught many of the protesters asleep in the tents.
Within minutes there was little left of the camp except for boots, piles of clothing and flags some of the protesters had been waving just minutes before.
Top opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich later accused the government of speaking "in the language of repression" and said his fight to overturn the results of last Sunday's election will continue.
One cannot build a modern society with violence, he says, adding that Belarus has become different now, the calm and quiet Belarus of before has gone forever because people want changes.
Lukashenko has been declared the official winner of the election with 83 percent of the vote, with Milinkevich trailing far behind with six percent.
In Washington, the US State Department said it was "disturbed by the breakup of the demonstration and the detention of protesters."
The police raid came on the fourth consecutive night of round-the-clock protests, which began with a huge rally of around 10,000 people on Sunday night.
Several hundred people remained in the camp through each night, joined by hundreds or even thousands more during the daytime.
The opposition says over 200 people have been arrested during the week, and some kind of police response had long been anticipated.
Prior to the election Lukashenko had threatened the break the neck of anyone holding what he called illegal rallies, saying protesters might even face the death penalty.
It is unclear what will happen to those arrested now.
The election has been roundly condemned by Western nations but Russia and China have congratulated Lukashenko on his official win.
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