More than 300 people were detained in the Belarusian capital on Sunday, as crowds took to the streets for the 18th consecutive weekend demanding the removal of the country’s authoritarian leaders who won a sixth term in an election widely regarded as rigged.
On Sunday, thousands of people attended dozens of small rallies across Minsk, the Belarusian capital – a new tactic used by the opposition instead of a large gathering to make it harder for security forces to target protesters.
“We believe! We can! We will win!” the protesters chanted. Several people wore Santa costumes and masks depicting President Alexander Lukashenko. “Give Belarusians a gift: go away”, a banner they carried stood.
Minsk police said they detained more than 300 people. The Viasna Human Rights Group released the names of 189 people detained in Minsk and other cities, where meetings also took place.
Mass protests have shaken Belarus, a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe, as official results of the presidential election on August 9 gave Lukashenko a landslide victory over his widely popular opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She and her supporters refused to acknowledge the result, saying the vote was full of fraud.
Authorities have cracked down on the largely peaceful demonstrations, the largest of which attracted up to 200,000 people. Police used stun grenades, tear gas and truncheons to disperse the meetings.
On Sunday, water cannons, armored vehicles and military trucks were seen in central Minsk. Several metro stations were closed and internet access was restricted.
At least four journalists have been detained in Minsk and the western city of Grodno, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists. Nina Bahinskaya, a 73-year-old protester known for her resilience, was also among those detained.
The continued closure of the protests provoked international outrage. Earlier this year, the European Union imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and dozens of officials over their role in security measures launched after the disputed election.
On Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that the human rights situation in Belarus was deteriorating. Bachelet pointed to reports of mass arrests, beatings of prisoners and the use of force to spread peaceful demonstrations.
“It is urgent that the Belarussian government put an end to the ongoing human rights abuses,” Bachelet said, urging Belarusian authorities to release those who have been illegally detained during protests, to stop the demonstrations and to investigate “all allegations of torture and other violations.” of human rights, including the deaths of at least four people in connection with the protests. ”
Protesters meanwhile say they are not deterred by the violence.
“The protest will not go away until Lukashenko leaves,” Maksim Borovets, one of those gathered in Minsk on Sunday, told the Associated Press. “The intensified oppressors did not stop (that). They only changed the forms of struggle.”