Arrests Made As Tens Of Thousands Of Protesters Rally In Minsk
By RFE/RL's Belarus Service August 30, 2020
MINSK -- Tens of thousands of Belarusians have streamed into the center of the capital for the latest mass demonstration against longtime authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Columns of protesters on August 30 joined what was called a Peace and Independence March toward Minsk's Independence Square, which was previously cordoned off by security forces.
Many participants waved banned red-and-white flags that have long been a symbol of opposition to his regime.
Riot police blocked crowds from advancing in several areas of the city, and detained at least 125 protesters near Independence Square and elsewhere, according to the Interior Ministry.
The protesters were carried away into prisoner transport vehicles as other demonstrators shouted "shame." Armored vehicles were brought into Minsk and parked near the residency of Lukashenka "to strengthen the security of personnel," the Interior Ministry said.
Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti on August 30 posted a photograph of Lukashenka walking around his residence with an automatic weapon that it said it received from the Belarusian leader's press secretary. It was unclear whether the photo was taken that day.
Some of the protesters began to leave the square late in the day amid heavy rain.
Belarus has been rocked by 22 days of protests and strikes over a disputed presidential election that has given Lukashenka a new six-year term. The protests have posed the greatest challenge yet to Lukashenka's 26-year rule.
Ahead of the planned march, the Interior Ministry has warned citizens not to take part in the unauthorized rally, while Minsk police recommended journalists covering the rally to stay at least 100 meters away from the protesters "for their own safety."
On previous Sundays, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Minsk over an August 9 presidential election widely believed to have been rigged in favor of Lukashenka, who claimed a landslide victory.
Anti-government demonstrations held over the past few days have been disbanded and participants detained by riot police.
Amid Western condemnation of the vote and the harsh police crackdown on opposition protesters, the Kremlin announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart planned face-to-face talks in Moscow in the coming weeks.
The two leaders have recently spoken on the phone several times amid the ongoing political crisis in Belarus, including on August 30, when Putin congratulated Lukashenka on his 66th birthday.
Both sides reaffirmed their intention to strengthen and expand their neighborly alliance, according to the Kremlin.
On August 29, a crowd estimated at up to 10,000 people, mainly women, marched through the city center, singing and chanting "Sasha, You're Fired!" -- a reference to Lukashenka.
A total of 29 protesters were detained in Minsk and elsewhere in Belarus that day, according to the Interior Ministry.
Meanwhile, the national Security Council stripped accreditations from at least 17 journalists from major foreign news organizations who have been covering the country's turmoil.
The Foreign Ministry said the decision was taken for security reasons.
Attacks On Media Freedom
Acting RFE/RL President Daisy Sindelar denounced "a desperate and ominous move by an authoritarian government to stifle the independent media and ruthlessly control the availability of credible information inside Belarus."
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned "these clear attacks on media freedom," while the U.S. Embassy in Minsk called on the Belarusian authorities to "demonstrate restraint."
"We stand by our long-term commitment to support Belarus's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the aspirations of the Belarusian people to choose their leaders and to choose their own path, free from external intervention," the statement said.
A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that instead of "intimidating and hindering media in reporting," the authorities should "focus on reflecting on and addressing the desires and aspirations of the Belarusian population."
A week ago, public anger drew at least 100,000 demonstrators in the capital despite a brutal police crackdown against protesters and widespread evidence of beatings and torture of those detained.
The leading opposition candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has told the European Parliament that at least six people have been killed in the crackdown and dozens of protesters have gone missing after being detained by authorities.
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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