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World

Belarus opposition rallies in latest protest

  • In the first days of the demonstrations in August, Belarus police detained thousands of protesters, with many reporting torture and abuse in custody.
Published December 6, 2020
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MINSK: Opposition protesters in Belarus rallied on Sunday in the latest of nearly four months of demonstrations against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarus has been gripped by massive protests since August after Lukashenko, 66, won a sixth term as president of the former Soviet republic.

The opposition believes the election was rigged and political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya -- who ran against Lukashenko in the place of her jailed husband -- was the true winner of the vote.

Authorities have imposed a heavy crackdown in recent weeks, detaining hundreds of protesters and preventing gatherings in the centre of the capital Minsk.

In response, Lukashenko's opponents have changed tactics, calling on supporters to gather in small groups in neighbourhoods across the capital in favour of massive marches through the city centre.

Local media reported that several dozen meeting points were planned for Sunday across Minsk and in other cities.

On Sunday morning water cannons and other law enforcement equipment were set up in the city centre and connection to networks such as the Telegram messaging app, which protesters use to coordinate, was limited.

Videos on social media showed small groups of protesters gathered in courtyards and others marching through Minsk with red and white flags -- a symbol of the Belarus opposition.

Human rights group Viasna said that 45 people including two journalists had been taken into police custody in Minsk and in other cities as of 1230 GMT.

"Each march is a reminder that Belarusians will not surrender. We will not allow our rights to be taken away and turn a blind eye to crimes," Tikhanovskaya, 38, wrote on her Telegram channel.

In the first days of the demonstrations in August, Belarus police detained thousands of protesters, with many reporting torture and abuse in custody.

The European Union has slapped sanctions on Lukashenko and a number of his allies over election rigging and the violent crackdown on demonstrators.

Tikhanovskaya fled to EU member Lithuania soon after the August election. She has received support from several Western leaders, who refuse to recognise the election results.

Lukashenko, who has the firm backing of Moscow, has refused to step down and instead has suggested reforming the constitution as a way of placating the opposition.

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