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Belarus protests: At least 100 detained, Minister defends security forces as restrained

A woman covers herself by an old Belarusian national flag reacts as opposition supporters gather in front of police line toward the Independence Palace, residence of the President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP

Security forces in Belarus detained scores of protesters and were filmed beating a man as he lay on the street, as the authorities launched a crackdown on mass demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko.

Nearly a month after an election which Lukashenko's opponents say he rigged, tens of thousands of people marched through Minsk, many decked out in red-and-white opposition colours and shouting “go away!.”

The authorities had laid barbed wire on the streets, and deployed military vehicles, prisoner vans, water cannons, helmeted riot police and plain clothes officers with masks and truncheons to try to contain the demonstrations.

At least 100 people were detained, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted the government as saying, while the human rights group Spring-96 put the figure at more than 200. Local media also showed protests and detentions in other cities.

Unidentified people holding batons chase a man in an attempt to knock him down during an opposition rally to protest against police brutality and to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus September 6, 2020.

Unidentified people holding batons chase a man in an attempt to knock him down during an opposition rally to protest against police brutality and to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus September 6, 2020.   | Photo Credit: TUT.BY via REUTERS

A witness said the harsh treatment of the protesters appeared to mark an escalation by the authorities after weeks of comparative restraint, although the violence was not as widespread and indiscriminate as in the protests' first days.

Footage from local media outlet TUT.BY showed a masked man beating a protester as he lay on the ground. Plain clothes officers could be seen smashing the glass door of a cafe to get at protesters sheltering inside.

A witness described helmeted security forces and men in plain clothes detaining at least two dozen protesters near President Alexander Lukashenko's residence, and beating and kicking another man as he lay on the ground. Some protesters left chanting “we'll be back”.

TUT.BY described people jumping into the Svislach River to escape the police in Minsk. Protests also took place outside the capital. In the city of Brest near the Polish border, video footage from TUT.BY showed women shouting “shame” at masked members of the security forces who dragged people away.

Belarusian opposition supporters with old Belarusian national flags gather toward the Independence Palace, the residential of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020.

Belarusian opposition supporters with old Belarusian national flags gather toward the Independence Palace, the residential of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP

Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Karayev defended the actions of the security forces.

“They talk about the brutality of the Belarusian police, and I want to say this: there are no more humane, restrained and cool-headed police anywhere in the world,” he said, according to the official Belta news agency.

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, denies electoral fraud. Buoyed by a show of support from traditional ally Russia, he has rejected calls for new elections. Demonstrations have carried on throughout the four weeks since the election, gaining in size on the weekends and drawing tens of thousands of people each Sunday.

Western countries have had to balance sympathy with the Belarusian pro-democracy movement against a desire not to provoke Moscow. The crisis has tested European resolve at a moment when countries are also weighing how to respond to the suspected poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 3:55:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/belarus-protests-scores-detained-minister-defends-security-forces-as-restrained/article32539409.ece

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