Belarusian police continue crackdown on protests, make arrests in Minsk
Belarusian police continued to crack down on opposition protests on Saturday, arresting more than 100 people in the capital Minsk, where activists hoped to gather.
The arrests come two days after more than 200 people were arrested during Freedom Day protests across the country, as opponents of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime continue to demonstrate peacefully, calling for free and fair elections.
One of the organizers of Saturday’s rally, the popular Telegram channel NEXTA, called on protesters to fall back on local protests – a change in tactics activists have adopted following widespread police crackdown and often violent.
According to human rights organization Viasna, more than 100 people have been arrested, including five Belarusian journalists.
Franak Viačorka, an adviser to opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, highlighted the arrests of journalists Katsiaryna Karpitskaya and Nadzeya Buzhan, saying on Twitter “that they must be immediately released”.
Huge protests have rocked the country since Lukashenko won a landslide victory in the presidential elections in August last year – a result dismissed by opponents and many Western countries as rigged.
Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years and is the only person to have ever ruled as president.
What started out as huge popular protests across the country have diminished somewhat in the face of mass arrests, violence and intimidation from the police.
At least four people have been killed and heavy prison sentences continue to be handed down to protesters.
On Thursday, small symbolic actions of the opposition had already led to more than 80 arrests, according to Viasna.
Police also searched several members of an organization representing the Polish minority and arrests had been made on the previous days.
Almost all the personalities of the protest have been imprisoned or forced into exile, such as the former presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who took refuge in Lithuania.
Despite European and American sanctions against Lukashenko and senior officials in his government, the Moscow-backed president has shown no sign of opening up.