Belarusian Police Detain More Than 90 As Protests Enter 11th Week
By RFE/RL October 18, 2020
MINSK -- Belarusian police detained more than 90 people during the latest rally to demand that authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka step down as a political standoff enters its 11th week.
At least 77 people were arrested in the capital, Minsk, during the rally on October 18, the Vyasna rights group reported. The rest were detained in regional cities, the group said.
Thousands of citizens peacefully marched through the center of Minsk on a cool, overcast day carrying the banned red-and-white flag of the opposition.
"Look out the window. Stop watching TV," the protesters chanted, a reference to state-controlled media downplaying the size and peaceful nature of the rallies.
The protesters also called for Lukashenka's arrest.
"Lukashenka in a paddy wagon!" they shouted.
The authorities deployed armored vehicles and water cannons in Minsk and blocked roads.
The October 18 rally attracted a smaller crowd than in previous weeks.
In the days leading up to the rally, Belarus's First Deputy Interior Minister Gennady Kazakevich threatened to use "lethal weapons if need be" on protesters to break up the demonstrations, which the authorities have called illegal.
Kazakevich claimed that protesters had become "extremely radical."
His statement was the first time Belarusian authorities have explicitly threatened to use firearms against opposition demonstrators. He did not carry out his threat.
Belarus has been rocked by protests since Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared the winner of the country's August 9 election amid allegations of widespread vote-rigging.
The protesters are calling for Lukashenka to step down and for new elections to be held.
Lukashenka sought to immediately squash the protest movement as he had in the past with harassments, arrests, and police brutality.
More than 12,000 Belarusians have been detained and hundreds tortured during protests over the ensuing weeks.
His top rival, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was forced to flee to Lithuania amid threats to her and her family. Supporters and others say she was the real winner of the August 9 vote.
However, the authorities have been unable to stamp out the movement and a stalemate has ensued.
The EU and United States have refused to recognize Lukashenka, who held an abrupt inauguration ceremony last month, as the legitimate ruler of Belarus.
Tsikhanouskaya and her supporters have stepped up their pressure this week as she called on Lukashenka to step down by October 25 or face a nationwide strike.
Lukashenka has lost the support of many state workers, long considered his base, as the economy has struggled under his rule in recent years.
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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