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Belarus: arrests and brutal repression of a large demonstration in Minsk

Water cannons, batons and stun grenades… The Belarusian police intervened in force this Sunday in Minsk to disperse the thousands of demonstrators denouncing the re-election in August of the president, the most violent police intervention in recent weeks.

The historic protest movement in Belarus, triggered by suspicions of massive fraud during the presidential election on August 9, has gathered tens of thousands of people every Sunday for two months.

On Sunday afternoon, a huge crowd gathered in Minsk again to demand the departure of President Alexander Lukashenko, but the police did everything to prevent the various processions from regrouping, blocking streets and intervening in force upstream to disperse certain groups.

Protesters surrounded by law enforcement in Minsk./via REUTERS

“Water cannons and stun grenades were used in Minsk,” ministry spokeswoman Olga Tchemodanova said. The use of this arsenal on such a scale is a first since the demonstrations which took place the days following the poll, when thousands of people were arrested, dozens injured and a handful killed. Since then, the clashes in Minsk had been sporadic.

Reduced internet access and limited public transport

Images from independent Belarusian media showed numerous violent arrests, by OMON riot police or by plainclothes armed with batons, hooded faces. Other footage showed vehicles equipped with water cannons, driving slowly and hurling orange water at protesters. US-funded radio station RFE / RL broadcast photos of injured protesters.

Belarus: arrests and brutal repression of a large demonstration in Minsk
A protester injured in Minsk this Sunday./REUTERS

Belarus: arrests and brutal repression of a large demonstration in Minsk
The crowd sprayed with orange liquid./AFP/STRINGER

Nacha Niva, one of the main online media, posted a video for him showing what appeared to be Interior Ministry soldiers chasing protesters and pointing their rifles at them.

As every Sunday, the Belarusian authorities had deployed riot forces and armored vehicles in large numbers. They also limit access to mobile internet and reduce the operation of public transport to hamper mobilization.

Belarus: arrests and brutal repression of a large demonstration in Minsk
Minsk, October 11 / via REUTERS

The Interior Ministry did not take stock of the arrests, while the NGO Viasna reported nearly 150 people arrested in the country, the vast majority in Minsk.

For the ministry, on the other hand, “the number of participants in today’s unauthorized event has decreased compared to previous times.” Elsewhere in the country, major protests also took place.

No accreditation of foreign journalists

According to Viasna’s accounts, more than 30 journalists have been arrested. Authorities last week withdrew the credentials of all foreign media outlets, hampering coverage of events in the country.

On Saturday, according to the presidency, the head of state went to discuss with opponents imprisoned in the prison of special services (KGB) the constitutional changes he plans to get out of the political crisis and on which he still has not. provided details.

The Telegram channel NEXTA Live, which partly coordinates the protest and has two million subscribers – in a country of 9.5 million inhabitants – had rightly called on the demonstrators to meet on Sunday around this prison and that of the ministry of ‘Interior so that “each political prisoner can hear” the people.

Opposition figures in prison or in exile

Hundreds of demonstrators, leaders of political movements, trade unions and journalists have been arrested since the beginning of August and imprisoned for having participated in or organized the protest.

The main opposition figures are either in prison or in exile, such as the opposition presidential candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

This week, several European countries including the United Kingdom, Estonia and Latvia recalled their ambassador to Minsk. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was “very concerned” about discrimination against athletes because of their political opinions.

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