Police in Belarus arrested more than 50 people across the country during protests demanding the president’s resignation, officials said on Wednesday.
The renewed crackdown on protesters, who have been taking to the streets for more than two weeks, came on Tuesday as authorities cranked up pressure on the opposition, jailing several activists, summoning others for questioning and selectively ordering dozens of demonstrators to appear in court.
The interior ministry said 51 protesters were arrested on Tuesday at rallies that spanned several cities.
According to the Viasna human rights group, 15 people were arrested in Minsk, the country’s capital, where several thousand people rallied at Independence Square despite heavy rain, pushing for the country’s longtime President Alexander Lukashenko to resign.
On Wednesday, the most celebrated Belarusian writer called on Russia to help persuade Lukashenko to negotiate, as she arrived for questioning in a criminal case accusing an opposition body of an illegal attempt to seize power.
“Now Lukashenko speaks only to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. We need him to speak to the people,” Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for literature, told reporters outside the Investigative Committee, where she appeared for questioning.
“Maybe the world can help us, so that Lukashenko will negotiate with somebody,” she said. “We need the world to help, and maybe Russia.”
Alexievich emerged after a short time and said she had invoked her right not to testify against herself.
She said there was no basis for the investigation, adding: “The more we stay together, the stronger we will be, and the greater chance we will have of making the authorities talk to us.”
Alexievich is one of the dozens of public figures who formed the opposition Coordination Council last week, with the stated aim of negotiating a peaceful transition of power after an election the opposition says was rigged.
Also on Wednesday, the staff of international IT companies joined mass protests and threatened to quit Belarus.
Stories of tortured detainees and the sight of plain-clothes officers grabbing protesters off the street made working life difficult for the Minsk employees of the California-based software-maker PandaDoc, its chief executive Mikita Mikado said.
“Everyone in the IT community, all Belarusians inside the country and outside the country were shocked. They were shocked by how blatantly the elections were rigged and by how much violence was applied afterwards,” said Mikado.
An internal survey showed 83 percent of PandaDoc’s employees in the country want to relocate.
“If this government stays, there will be no PandaDoc in Belarus,” Mikado added.