Like every Sunday since August 9, thousands of demonstrators have marched through the streets of Minsk, Belarus, to demand the departure of President Alexander Lukashenko. This time, however, the police used all means to disperse the protesters, with batons, water cannons and stun grenades.
On Sunday afternoon, a huge crowd gathered again in the Belarusian capital, but the police did everything to prevent the various processions from regrouping, blocking streets and intervening in force upstream to disperse some groups. “Water cannons and stun grenades were used in Minsk,” ministry spokeswoman Olga Tchemodanova said.
The use of such a scale of this arsenal 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. 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.
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US-funded radio station RFE / RL broadcast photos of injured protesters. 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 in large numbers riot forces and armored vehicles. They also limit access to mobile Internet and reduce the operation of public transport to hinder mobilization.
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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.
Thirty journalists arrested
According to Viasna’s accounts, more than thirty journalists were 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.
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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 the beginning of August and imprisoned for having participated in or organized the protest. A senior opposition leader in exile, Pavel Latouchko, said the arrests on Sunday show “that the authorities are not ready and capable of conducting an open dialogue with society”.