Belarusian police on Sunday detained more than 200 people while tens of thousands marched against the powerful Alexander Lukashenko in protest of police threats to fire after several weeks of demonstrations.
Crowds of demonstrators waving the red and white flags of the opposition descended on a fierce industrial neighborhood in southeastern Minsk for a march on Partisan Prospect, a major transport artery and home to many factory.
Protesters took to the streets despite police threats this week to use deadly force from now on “if necessary”.
Some protesters shouted “Strike!” and “You and your riot police are out!”;
Belarusian authorities dispersed military trucks and water cannons but police further avoided using riot control equipment on Sunday.
Belarusian interior minister spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told AFP that law enforcement members fired rubber bullets as a warning to protesters who stoned police.
Chemodanova said more than 200 people were arrested, most of them in Minsk.
The former Soviet Union was hit by a historic protest after Lukashenko claimed victory in the August 9 election to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a prominent opposition candidate.
Protester Anzhela Krasovskaya said she was not afraid of threats by authorities to use live ammunition.
“There is no way to get back to us,” Krasovskaya told AFP. “If they start shooting then there will be more people on the streets.”
– ‘Violence not yet happened’ –
Pensioner Maria Petrovich said the demonstrations would continue until Lukashenko stopped.
“The level of violence perpetrated by the authorities is unprecedented,” he told AFP.
Telephone networks were severely disrupted, and mobile operator MTS Belarus said it had ordered them to restrict access to “ensure national security”.
Tikhanovskaya, who had given refuge to EU member Lithuania after the vote, called on Lukashenko to step down before October 25, warning that he would face a crippling general strike.
Prior to Sunday’s protest, the 38-year-old urged Belarusians to continue their demands.
“We will only stop when every political prisoner walks freely, when law enforcement members begin to defend the people, and the rule of law and honest elections return to Belarus,” Tikhanovskaya said.
– ‘Descendants of the glorious warrior’ –
The Nexta Live channel on the social-media platform Telegram, which joined the protesters, urged Belarusians to express solidarity with workers during the protest, dubbed it “March of the Partisans”.
“We, the descendants of the glorious warriors and partisans, deserve our ancestors to defeat fascism once,” the channel said in a message to more than two million subscribers.
During World War II, the Nazi occupation of Belarus had the largest partisan movement in Europe.
The protest movement has been holding a series of large demonstrations over the past two months, with 100,000 or more people taking to the streets every Sunday.
Tikhanovskaya, who maintained his victory in the elections in August, said Lukashenko should release political prisoners and stop “state terror”.
Many people have died and thousands have been arrested in a crackdown after the election, with outrageous accounts emerging of prison abuse. Many said they were tortured, beaten and humiliated in detention.
Ahead of Sunday’s march Ivan Tertel, head of the KGB security service, said the protests were being prepared to “ruin the situation in our country”.
Many said they supported Tikhanovskaya’s call for a general strike, expressing hope that it would help end the current unrest.
“We need to push the situation,” said student Oleg Demyanenko. “Many of my friends are ready.”
Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, has refused to step down and get back from Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
The European Union has refused to acknowledge the results of the disputed vote. Last week, EU foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on Lukashenko as the bloc seeks to increase pressure on cracking down on protesters.
A Norwegian MP said on Sunday that he had appointed Tikhanovskaya and his two opposition coalition partners for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for organizing a peaceful protest.
Geir Toskedal, of the Christian Democratic Party, told Vart Land daily that he had appointed Tikhanovskaya, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo “for their struggle for fair elections and for the inspiration of peaceful opposition against the illegal regime. in Belarus “.
Kolesnikova is in prison, while Tsepkalo, like Tikhanovskaya, leaves the country.
tk-as / har