Conflicts & War

Tens of thousands turn out for huge street protests in Belarus

Moscow, Sep 6 (efe-epa).- A human wave with red and white flags, the symbol of the Belarusian opposition, once again and for the fourth consecutive Sunday took to the streets in Minsk to demand the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, a day of protest that was marked by numerous arrests.

“Leave” and “Long live Belarus” were the main chants engaged in by the more than 100,000 demonstrators, according to estimates by the local press, who marched through downtown Minsk amid a heavy presence of police deployed starting early in the morning.

The main opposition march, just as on other occasions, took place in the capital, although less massive protests were also held in the cities of Grodno, Brest, Gomel and Mogilev.

The Belarusian police warned starting early Sunday morning that they would increase the number of officers and soldiers on the streets with an eye toward ensuring that the opposition protest did not get out of hand.

The security forces blocked access to the city’s main avenues and cordoned off Independence Square, the habitual site of opposition demonstrations in recent weeks, according to the Web site.

Also closed off were several metro stations in downtown Minsk, according to local media.

One of the most heavily guarded sites on Sunday was Lukashenko’s official residence, which was surrounded by security forces and barbed wire to prevent the approach of demonstrators.

Despite the heavy police deployment, tens of thousands of Minsk residents flocked to the site to demand the resignation of Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, and to rebuke the anti-riot forces with shouts such as “We pay you, we’re the power” and “Beating people is not a career.”

The day of protests was marked by many arrests made by security forces not only in Minsk but also in other cities where opposition marches were staged.

According to the Vesna human rights center, in the Belarusian capital alone more than 130 people were arrested on Sunday.

The organization also reported dozens of arrests in the cities of Brest, Mogilev and Vitebsk.

Meanwhile, the Association of Journalists of Belarus reported that among those arrested on Sunday were at least two reporters.

The authorities confirmed that “more than 100 arrests” had been made of people participating in “unauthorized acts” around the country, adding that the situation was “under control.”

Internet users in the capital complained during the day of difficulties accessing various Web pages and messaging apps, a situation that has occurred on several occasions since the start of the post-election protests on Aug. 9, when Lukashenko won reelection in a vote that has been called into question by the opposition, among others.

Given the complaints from the public, the A1 mobile telephone operating company confirmed that as per an order by the authorities it had reduced Internet connection speed, which could lead to “a reduction in the quality of service provided or its temporary inaccessibility.”

Meanwhile, no sooner than the end of the protests, Internet service in Minsk was fully restored.

The leader of the Belarusian opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, on Saturday called on the public to turn out in massive numbers for the “unity march” on Sunday in Minsk, which was staged under the slogan “One for all and all for one.”

“Remember that together we’re stronger,” the opposition leader said from Lithuania, where she went into exile, fearing arrest, on Aug. 11.

In response to Tikhanovskaya’s call, huge throngs of demonstrators in Minsk on Sunday marched through the streets, scenes videotaped and posted on the social networks.

While Tikhanovskaya directed her remarks to Belarusians, one of her closest collaborators in the capital, Olga Kovalkova, had to leave the country due to pressure from the security forces, according to her own testimony on the matter.

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