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Belarus Police Use Water Cannons To Disperse Protesters

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service October 04, 2020

Tens of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets in support of the country's political prisoners on October 4, the eighth weekend in a row of protests against long-time ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Opposition news channel Nexta said that more than 100,000 people rallied in the capital, Minsk, where police used water cannons to disperse the protesters.

Waving white flags with a red stripe, which have become the symbol of the Belarusian opposition, protesters marched to the beat of drums towards detention facilities.

Authorities cordoned off streets in central Minsk, while some subway stations temporarily closed their doors for commuters to hinder access to the city center.

Security forces detained scores of protesters. The Belarusian journalists' association said that at least three media representatives had been taken into custody by police.

Local observers reported that mobile Internet was turned off as authorities tried to prevent protesters from discussing which routes to take.

Protests against Lukashenka have been ongoing since the disputed presidential election on August 9, with several deaths, hundreds of injuries, and more than 10,000 arrests since.

Lukashenka, in office since 1994, was officially declared the election winner with more than 80 percent of the vote -- a result which the opposition said was rigged and that their candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, won.

Tsikhanouskaya took refuge in neighboring Lithuania following the vote. She announced on September 30 she has begun creating a shadow cabinet, saying "Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime is not just illegitimate, but also is not capable of carrying out its duties."

Protesters have been asked to bring pictures of political prisoners and to march in front of detention centers.

Several prominent members of the opposition are currently in detention, including leader Maryya Kalesnikava, who is facing up to five years in jail on charges of endangering national security.

The latest march comes after the United States and EU on October 2 slapped sanctions on Belarusian officials responsible for fraud in the August presidential election and the brutal crackdown on protesters and opposition members.

Britain and Canada have also sanctioned Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka.

Belarus quickly responded with tit-for-tat sanctions against the EU, although it was vague on who would be on its blacklist.

The Foreign Ministry advised the embassies of its western neighbors Poland and Latvia to reduce their staffs and summoned the ambassadors of the two countries.

In a statement on October 4, the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, blasted the Belarusian move against the Lithuanian and Polish diplomats.

"The demand of the Belarusian authorities that Poland and Lithuania withdraw their ambassadors and significantly reduce their diplomatic representations in Minsk is unfounded and regrettable. It goes against the logic of dialogue and will only further isolate the authorities in Minsk, Borrell said.

In tandem with the moves against Latvia and Poland, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it was revoking the accreditations of all foreign media, claiming it was a long-considered move aimed at streamlining the process.

Ahead of the protest, the top opposition Telegram channel, Nexta Live, which has coordinated protesters and has more than 2 million subscribers, said that authorities have opened more than 250 criminal cases against Lukashenka's would-be rivals, activists, bloggers and ordinary Belarusians.

Lukashenka has accused Western countries and NATO of supporting protesters and trying to destabilize the country.

With reporting by dpa and Reuters

Source: as-belarusians-gather-for-march-in-support-of- political-prisoners-/30874370.html

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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