Updated at 11:43,21-10-2020

Tens of Thousands March In Minsk Demanding Release of Belarusian Political Prisoners

Rferl

Tens of Thousands March In Minsk Demanding Release of Belarusian Political Prisoners
Tens of thousands participated in an opposition rally in Minsk on October 4.
MINSK -- Tens of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets in support of the country’s political prisoners on October 4, in the eighth weekend in a row of massive protests against long-time ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Opposition news channel Nexta said that more than 100,000 people rallied in the capital, Minsk, where police used water cannons to disperse the protesters.

Waving the white-and-red flag of the opposition, protesters marched to the beat of drums toward detention facilities.

Security forces cordoned off streets in central Minsk, while some metro stations temporarily closed their doors to commuters to hinder access to the city center.

Protests were also held in Brest, Hrodna, Homel, Mahilyou, and other cities.

More than 200 people were detained nationwide, the Vyasna human rights group reported.

Seventeen journalists were also detained. All but five were released after police checked their documents.

Similar to past protests, local observers reported that mobile Internet was turned off as authorities tried to prevent protesters from organizing.

Protests against Lukashenka have continued since the disputed presidential election on August 9 despite a crackdown, with several killed, hundreds of injured, and more than 10,000 detained.

Lukashenka, in office since 1994, was officially declared the election winner with more than 80 percent of the vote -- a result which the opposition and the West assert was rigged.

Opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya took refuge in neighboring Lithuania following the vote. She announced on September 30 she has begun creating a shadow cabinet, saying, "Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime is not just illegitimate, but also is not capable of carrying out its duties."

Several prominent members of the opposition are currently in detention, including leader Maryya Kalesnikava, who is facing up to five years in jail on charges of endangering national security.

Tsikhanouskaya's husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, has been in prison since before the election on charges he and supporters say are politically motivated.

Ahead of the protest, Nexta, which has coordinated protesters and has more than 2 million subscribers, said that authorities have opened more than 250 criminal cases against Lukashenka's would-be rivals, activists, bloggers and ordinary Belarusians.

The latest march comes after the United States and EU on October 2 slapped sanctions on Belarusian officials responsible for fraud in the August presidential election and the brutal crackdown on protesters and opposition members.

Britain and Canada have also sanctioned Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka.

Belarus quickly responded with tit-for-tat sanctions against the EU, although it was vague on who would be on its blacklist.

Tens of Thousands March In Minsk Demanding Release of Belarusian Political Prisoners

An opposition supporter stands next to a police water cannon during a rally in Minsk on October 4.


The Foreign Ministry advised the embassies of its western neighbors Poland and Latvia to reduce their staffs and summoned the ambassadors of the two countries.

In a statement on October 4, the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, blasted the Belarusian move against the Lithuanian and Polish diplomats.

"The demand of the Belarusian authorities that Poland and Lithuania withdraw their ambassadors and significantly reduce their diplomatic representations in Minsk is unfounded and regrettable. It goes against the logic of dialogue and will only further isolate the authorities in Minsk," Borrell said.

In tandem with the moves against Latvia and Poland, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it was revoking the accreditation of all foreign media, claiming it was a long-considered move aimed at streamlining the process.

Lukashenka has accused Western countries and NATO of supporting protesters and trying to destabilize the country.