Belarusian police fire stun grenades in protest against 100,000 | Europe

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Belarusian police used stun grenades against protesters as more than 100,000 people marched through the capital Minsk to demand the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko.The police action comes a few hours before the expiration of an ultimatum posed by the opposition: Lukashenko must resign before midnight or face a national strike.

Protesters carrying the red and white flags of the Belarusian opposition movement dispersed on Sunday as loud bangs and flashes lit the city streets after dark, videos showed.

Explosions and white smoke swept through residential areas as people hid behind vehicles and fled from police, the videos showed, shared online by prominent news organizations.

Law enforcement officials confirmed riot guns were used and detentions had taken place, TASS and RIA news agencies reported.

It was the eleventh consecutive weekend of mass protests since a contested election in August plunged the country into turmoil.

Karel Lannoo, CEO of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that the resilience of the opposition movement was putting enormous pressure on Lukashenko.

“They managed to go out like this every Sunday. Again this Sunday, more than 100,000 demonstrators came out even though the police were very energetic in the streets to try to prevent them from demonstrating, ”he said.

“I don’t expect Lukashenko to resign today, but I think the resistance remains extremely strong. We also see that all European countries as well as the United States and other Western countries have given Lukashenko very clear warnings, ”Lannoo said.

“Sooner or later he will have to resign.”

A national strike

Earlier on Sunday, crowds crossed the capital shouting “strike”, waving flags and beating drums.

At least 12 metro stations have been closed, helmeted riot police patrolled the streets and mobile internet services were cut off in Minsk.

Two journalists were arrested ahead of the protest, a local journalists’ association said.

Dozens of people were arrested and security forces used tear gas in the western town of Lida, Russian news agency RIA said citing the regional branch of the Interior Ministry.

The Viasna Human Rights Center has reported about 60 arrests in various towns across the country where protests have also taken place.

A former director of a Soviet collective farm, Lukashenko ruled Belarus for more than a quarter of a century and showed little willingness to step down, backed by loans and the offer of military support from Russia’s traditional ally.

The president’s main opponents were jailed or fled into exile following the August 9 elections, which Lukashenko’s opponents accuse him of rigging to win a sixth consecutive term. He denies electoral fraud.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, his main electoral challenger, has called from exile for a national strike to begin on Monday if Lukashenko refuses to release all political prisoners and resigns to make way for new elections.

“Today at 11:59 pm, the duration of the people’s ultimatum will expire, and if the demands are not met, the Belarusians will start a national strike,” she said in a statement.

Lukashenko signaled that he would ignore the ultimatum.



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