Police deployed water cannons and stun grenades against opposition protesters in Minsk on Sunday after leader Alexander Lukashenko raised hopes for change by meeting with jailed opposition figures .
Large numbers of black-masked policemen, internal soldiers and men in civilian clothes emerged from unmarked minibuses and ran towards protesters in the capital Minsk, shooting some to the ground and hitting them with batons, the police said. images of cookies on independent news sites.
In a video, filmed by a journalist for the independent newspaper Nasha Niva, internal troops appear to run towards the protesters while threatening them with weapons.
“In Minsk at least, water cannons and stun grenades have been used,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told AFP.
She said the number of detainees would not be released until Monday, while rights group Viasna, which monitors detentions during political protests, said at least 140 people had been detained in Minsk as well as a thirty in other cities.
Among those detained were journalists from the Russian state news agency TASS, although they were later released, the agency reported.
Protesters have rallied every weekend since Lukashenko won the August 9 election victory over popular opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claims to have been the real winner.
The European Union and the United States have refused to recognize Lukashenko’s inauguration for a sixth term, saying the polls were not free and fair and condemning allegations of abuse and torture of the detained protesters.
The US and EU have also hit Belarus with sanctions for allegedly rigging the vote and orchestrating a crackdown on protesters, targeting key officials – but not Lukashenko himself.
Protesters came out with umbrellas on a rainy afternoon for the latest in a series of mass protests urging Lukashenko to step down, called the “Pride March”.
Independent media reported that several thousand people were participating in scattered protests as police blocked roads in the city center.
– Bandaged protester head –
The protest came after the authoritarian 66-year-old leader, in power since 1994, made the unusual decision on Saturday to visit a group of recently jailed opposition politicians.
Officially, the meetings focused on Lukashenko’s constitutional reform projects, which he presented as a response to public demands for change.
The opposition hailed this as a sign that Lukashenko feels his weakness and seeks compromise with the protest movement, as Tikhanovskaya recently met with national leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Tikhanovskaya wrote on social media that Lukashenko had “acknowledged the existence of political prisoners he called criminals.”
But she added that “you cannot have a dialogue in a prison cell”.
However, authorities used some of the harshest tactics since the election on Sunday, after ordering a cut in mobile internet to hamper the coordination and dispatch of military vehicles to the center of the capital.
Several thousand protesters dodged police, who closed main streets to prevent columns of protesters from reaching the city center.
Some of those detained were wrapped in the red and white protest flag, as footage posted by the Tut.by news site showed.
A man was head bandaged at the scene, the Belsat news site reported.
Police repression “once again underlines that the regime is not capable of conducting an honest and open dialogue with society,” commented opposition politician Pavel Latushko on social media.
© 2020 AFP