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Thousands March Again In Belarus To Call For Lukashenka's Resignation

(Article text ©2020 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - rferl.org - Sept. 20, 2020 - article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/thousands-gather-again-in-belarus-to-march-against-lukashenka/30848518.html)

Thousands of opposition supporters gathered again in central Minsk on September 20 for a fresh protest -- despite threats of arrest -- to demand authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka step down.

Belarus MapsProtesters carried the banned red-and-white flag associated with the opposition movement and chanted, “Leave!” -- a reference to Lukashenka -- as they marched through the capital for the sixth-straight week.

Authorities brought armored military trucks and barbed wire into central Minsk ahead of the planned rally and at various locations across the country as they seek to intimidate citizens.

By late afternoon, police had detained more than 30 protesters around the country, Belarusian rights organization Vyasna reported.

Arrests in the city of Brest appeared violent as police in black riot gear charged into a crowd and dragged away protesters. Many fought back, prompting Brest police to fire into the air, which sent the crowd scattering.

Belarus has been rocked by mass protests ever since August 9, when Lukashenka was declared the winner of a presidential vote that was deemed to be rigged in his favor.

Lukashenka, who has ruled the nation with an iron fist since 1994, has sought to squash the protest movement as in past years with a tough law enforcement response.

Police have arrested almost 12,000 since the protests began, according to Vyasna, and tortured hundreds, sparking outrage in the West.

“This is an incredible level,” said Ales Byalyatski, the head of Vyasna, adding that up to 3,000 were detained amid the 2006 and 2010 presidential elections.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition leader who claims to have won the August 9 election, addressed citizens afraid to protest, saying they could still help the movement by sewing flags, creating ideas for posters, and helping free detainees.

"Our country has changed forever, and now everyone is important, everyone is important. Even if you didn't go out today, tomorrow you can take a step towards the new Belarus. Everyone can do something that will affect the future of our country. Our mutual support is our strength," she said via her Telegram channel on September 20.

Tsikhanouskaya is among several opposition leaders who have been forced to leave the country -- she is in Lithuania -- or detained in a widening crackdown.

Huge protests challenging the results of an August 9 presidential election that declared Lukashenka the landslide winner have swept across Belarus over the past month.

Several thousand women marched in central Minsk on September 19, briefly scuffling with riot police who then blocked their path.

Black uniformed riot police swiftly forced hundreds of women, who had stood with linked hands, into police vans.

Vyasna, a human rights organization in Belarus, said some 400 women were arrested during the September 19 march.

On September 18, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution submitted by the European Union to launch closer monitoring of rights violations in Belarus amid a crackdown on protesters calling for Lukashenka to resign.

The UN move came a day after the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution refusing to recognize Lukashenka as president of Belarus once his current term expires in November, rejecting the results of the August 9 election.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Interfax

Key Words: Belarus, Lukaskena, Lukashenko, Election Fraud, Protests

Alexander Lukashenka file photo