Hundreds arrested as Belarus protesters face violent crackdown

Police use rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds as months of protests against President Lukashenko continue.

The Viasna human rights organisation said more than 500 people were arrested nationwide on Sunday [AFP]

Masked security forces arrested hundreds of people in another day of mass demonstrations against the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.

Protesters on Sunday chanted “I’m going out”, the last-known written words of an anti-government protester who died last week.

Videos distributed on the messaging app, Telegram, showed the uniformed officers using tear gas and stun grenades against peaceful protesters in the capital, Minsk, in an attempt to disband their rallies.

The Viasna human rights organisation reported detentions at demonstrations in other cities, including Vitebsk and Gomel.

It said more than 900 people were arrested nationwide on Sunday.

Belarus has been mired in political crisis for months. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets every week since an election in August that they say was rigged, something Lukasheko denies.

Protesters want the veteran leader, in power for 26 years, to resign.

Anti-government protester Roman Bondarenko, 31, died in hospital in Minsk on Thursday, following what demonstrators said was a severe beating by security forces.

The interior ministry has denied responsibility for Bondarenko’s death, saying he was killed in a scuffle with civilians.

Security forces in riot gear and shields on Sunday flooded the square where Bondarenko was arrested, pulling down opposition flags, kicking over memorial lamps and dragging people from the crowds and frog-marching them to vans, a witness said.

Hundreds of protesters gathered for a vigil near Bondarenko’s house in Minsk [AFP]

‘Outrageous and shameful’

Videos showed men and women being dragged into prisoner transporters
and minibuses. Journalists were among those arrested. Several people were reported injured.

Hundreds of protesters, wearing the red-and-white colours that have come to represent the protest movement, had gathered on Sunday for a vigil near Bondarenko’s house in Minsk.

Witnesses said Bondarenko was detained after scuffling with people in plain clothes who had come to a playground to remove red-and-white ribbons.

Strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko has refused to step down after claiming victory in a disputed election in August [BelaPAN/Reuters]

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s main opponent, who fled into exile in Lithuania after the election, said on social media she supported Sunday’s rallies in memory of Bondarenko.

The European Union has called Bondarenko’s death “an outrageous and shameful result of the actions by the Belarusian authorities … (who have) directly and violently carried out repression of their own population”.

Police have arrested thousands of people during months of protests, and rights groups say hundreds of detainees have reported being subjected to beatings and other rights abuses.

Source: News Agencies