Water cannons, batons and stun grenades: Belarusian police intervened in force on Sunday in Minsk to disperse thousands of demonstrators denouncing the president’s re-election in August, 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.
“Water cannons and stun grenades were used in Minsk,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Tchemodanova told AFP.
The extensive use of this arsenal is a first since the protests that took place in the days following the election, when thousands of people were arrested, dozens injured and a handful killed. Since then, the clashes in Minsk had been sporadic.
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 and independent online media Tut.by aired photos of injured protesters, some with bloody heads.
Nacha Niva, one of the main online media outlets, 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.
The Interior Ministry did not take stock of the arrests, but the NGO Viasna recorded the arrest of more than 250 people in the country, the vast majority in Minsk.
The Interior Ministry ensures that the number of participants “has decreased compared to previous times”.
Elsewhere in the country, major protests also took place, also marked by a severe police response.
Meeting with opponents in prison
According to Viasna’s accounts, more than 30 journalists have been arrested. Authorities last week revoked all foreign media credentials, 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 the country out of the political crisis and on which he did not. still 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 called the demonstrators to meet on Sunday around this prison and that of the ministry of the Interior so that “each political prisoner can hear” the people.
Hundreds of demonstrators, leaders of political movements, trade unions and journalists have been arrested since early August and jailed for participating in or organizing the protest.
A senior opposition leader in exile, Pavel Latouchko, said the arrests on Sunday show “that the authorities are not ready and able to conduct an open dialogue with society”.
“No matter how many people they put in jail, we will still get out [défiler] because the leaders are him, her, all of us, “Alexander Starovoïtov, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, assured before the demonstration.
The main opposition figures are either in prison or in exile, like 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 views.