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Scores detained during protests in Belarus, rights group says

Wounded protester in rally against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
A wounded protester during an opposition rally Sunday in Belarus against President Alexander Lukashenko.
(Associated Press)

Scores of people were detained Sunday in Belarus, a local rights group said, amid ongoing protests against the country’s authoritarian leader, who won his sixth term in office in a vote widely seen as rigged.

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in the Belarusian capital of Minsk for the 10th consecutive Sunday, demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has run the country with an iron fist for 26 years. The Viasna human rights center estimated that about 100,000 people took part in the protest, which the police moved to disperse with water cannons, stun grenades and truncheons.

Rallies also took place in other cities, including Brest, Vitebsk and Grodno.

Dozens of protesters sustained injuries, according to Viasna. On its website, the group released a list of protesters detained across the country, a list that by Sunday evening had more than 300 names on it.

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“This has been the harshest dispersal of a Sunday march since August,” Viasna leader Ales Bialiatski said.

Mass protests have rocked Belarus for more than two months, with the largest ones held on Sundays and drawing up to 200,000 people. The unprecedented unrest was triggered by the results of the Aug. 9 presidential election that handed Lukashenko a victory with 80% of the vote.

Detainees swept up in protest against Belarus president describe harrowing jailhouse abuse. Major rights group deems some of it torture.

His main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, received 10%. She and her supporters refused to recognize the results, saying the outcome of the vote was manipulated.

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In the first days of the protests, Belarusian authorities cracked down brutally on protesters, with police detaining thousands and injuring scores with truncheons, rubber bullets and stun grenades. The violent response to the rallies prompted international outrage.

The government has since scaled down on the violent suppression but has maintained its pressure on demonstrators, detaining hundreds and prosecuting top activists. Prominent members of the opposition’s Coordination Council, formed to push for a transition of power, have been arrested or forced to leave the country.

At least 35 journalists were detained during protests Sunday, according to the Belarusian Assn. of Journalists. Police and other security forces blocked off central areas of Minsk, and military trucks and armored carriers were seen in the city before the rally.

Belarus, shaken by weeks of massive protests, cracks down hard on the news media, deporting some journalists and revoking the accreditation of many.

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On Saturday, Lukashenko visited a prison to talk to opposition activists, who have been jailed for challenging his reelection. Lukashenko’s office said that “the goal of the president was to hear everyone’s opinion.”

Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania after leaving Belarus in fear for her safety and that of her children, said Sunday that any dialogue with the authorities should start only after they stopped detentions and released political prisoners.

“We are all working together to stop forceful detentions, release political prisoners and set a time and a place for talks. If these demands are not met, then they are trying to deceive us,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement.


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