Belarusian police detained more than 200 people yesterday as tens of thousands marched against President Alexander Lukashenko in defiance of police threats to open fire after weeks of demonstrations.
Crowds of demonstrators waving red-and-white opposition flags descended on a gritty industrial neighbourhood in southeast Minsk for a march along Partisan Prospect, a key transport artery and home to a number of factories.
Protesters took to the streets despite threats by police this week to use lethal force from now on “if necessary”.
Some protesters chanted “Strike!” and “You and your riot police get out!”
Belarusian authorities deployed military trucks and water cannon but police largely refrained from using riot control equipment yesterday.
Belarusian interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told AFP that members of law enforcement fired off rubber bullets as a warning to protesters who threw stones at police.
Chemodanova said that more than 200 people were arrested, most of them in Minsk.
The former Soviet nation has been gripped by historic protests after Lukashenko claimed victory in August 9 elections over Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a popular opposition candidate.
Protester Anzhela Krasovskaya said she was not afraid of authorities’ threats to use live ammunition.
“There’s no way back for us,” Krasovskaya told AFP. “If they start shooting then there would be even more people in the streets.”
Phone networks were heavily disrupted, and mobile operator MTS Belarus said it had been ordered to limit access to “ensure national security”.
Tikhanovskaya, who was granted shelter in EU member Lithuania after the vote, has called on Lukashenko to quit power before October 25, warning he would otherwise face a crippling general strike.
Ahead of yesterday’s protest, the 38-year-old urged Belarusians to press ahead with their demands.
“We will stop only when every political prisoner walks free, when members of law enforcement begin to defend the people, and rule of law and honest elections return to Belarus,” Tikhanovskaya said.
The Nexta Live channel on social-media platform Telegram, which has co-ordinated protesters, urged Belarusians to express solidarity with workers during the protest, dubbed the “March of Partisans”.
“We, descendants of glorious warriors and partisans, are worthy of our forefathers who already defeated fascism once,” the channel said in a message to its more than 2mn subscribers.
During World War II, Nazi-occupied Belarus had Europe’s largest partisan movement.
The protest movement has kept up a series of large-scale demonstrations for the past two months, with 100,000 people or more taking to the streets every Sunday.
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