Tens of thousands of people protested against the government in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Sunday, despite the police threatening the use of firearms. The crowd called for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been ruling the country with a hard hand since 1994. The Interfax news agency reported that more than 30,000 people had joined the rally. Around 50 demonstrators were arrested. According to the Wesna human rights group, there had been well over 100 arrests across the country by evening. The cellular network was disrupted in parts of the capital. In the vicinity of the rally, loud noises could be heard that sounded like stun grenades. Last week the police leadership said they reserved the right to use firearms against demonstrators.
The protests were triggered by the presidential election on August 9, in which Lukashenko was re-elected with 80 percent of the vote, according to official information. The demonstrators, but also the European Union, do not recognize the election. Since then, the mass protests have not stopped, especially in Minsk. There have been several strikes in Belarus, which is a close ally of Russia.
13,000 people arrested so far
The security forces in Belarus, a former Soviet republic, have arrested more than 13,000 people so far. Opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya, who had gone to safety in Lithuania, called on President Lukashenko last week to resign by October 25th. Otherwise there will be nationwide strikes that will cripple the country.
Kolesnikova’s lawyer released from house arrest
It also became known that the lawyer for the detained protest leader Maria Kolesnikova had been released from house arrest. “That Ilya Salej is at home and not in custody is good news, and that is the result of our peaceful pressure on the regime,” said Tichanovskaya. The protests would continue, however, until all political prisoners are free and there are new elections. (Reuters, apa, dpa)