Police in Belarus have detained more than 100 people, including five journalists, local media and a rights group have said, as they gathered for fresh rallies against President Alexander Lukashenko
Protests erupted in the former Soviet country last August after Lukashenko claimed a sixth presidential term in a vote that the opposition and Western diplomats said was rigged.
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But the protests died down during the Belarusian winter in the wake of a violent crackdown that saw thousands of protesters detained, several killed and hundreds receive lengthy prison sentences for the unrest.
The opposition Telegram channel Nexta that mobilises and coordinates protesters had called for a “second wave” of rallies to kick off on Saturday.
The city square in Minsk, where the demonstration was called to start on Saturday afternoon, was surrounded by police vehicles and prison vans, and roads leading to it were closed.
No large-scale demonstrations took place at the site, though more than 100 people were detained during the course of the day, RIA cited a spokeswoman for the Belarus interior ministry as saying.
Journalist @AndrzejPoczobut is one of the best professionals. He, @AngelikaBorys and other members of the Polish minority have been arrested in the past days following a worsening diplomatic standoff between #Poland and #Belarus. Persecution for someone’s ethnic group is so low pic.twitter.com/DAn8Mv0bGG
— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) March 27, 2021
The Viasna human rights group said law enforcement officers had detained at least 110 people, including five journalists, across the country.
Among those detained were Galina Ulasik and Anna Kaltygina, editors at opposition news outlet TUT.by, said the organisation, whose channel on the Telegram messenger app has more than 400,000 followers.
Another outlet, Nasha Niva, with 90,000 Telegram readers, said its editor-in-chief Yahor Martsinovich was also detained at the square, along with a photographer.
Almost all opposition leaders have either been arrested or forced to leave, notably Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania shortly after the August vote.
A group that represents the Polish minority in Belarus has also been singled out by police.
Images circulating on social media showed the Minsk city centre heavily guarded by military vehicles.
Tikhanovskaya shared a video on Twitter, writing, “Siloviki brutally attacked a cyclist today in Minsk.
“In Belarus, you can’t just leave home and be sure you will return safely. Belarusians live in this reality for over half a year.”
Siloviki brutally attacked a cyclist today in Minsk. In Belarus, you can't just leave home and be sure you will return safely. Belarusians live in this reality for over half a year. pic.twitter.com/SjsNKRTht3
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) March 27, 2021
Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch, described Martsinovich’s arrest as “terrible news” in a Twitter post.
— Rachel Denber (@Rachel_Denber) March 27, 2021
Belarus earlier this month jailed a Tut.by journalist for six months for publishing leaked medical records showing a protester who died after being arrested by police had no alcohol in his system as law enforcement had claimed.
Nexta on Saturday afternoon called for protesters to regroup and organise splintered actions all over their cities.
Protesters also gathered in scattered rallies on Thursday to mark Freedom Day in Belarus, which the opposition commemorates each year on the anniversary of a declaration of independence in 1918.
Viasna said police detained at least 176 people during the course of the day.
Despite being slapped with EU sanctions for the violent crackdown, Lukashenko and his allies have held firm, with the authoritarian leader saying he has withstood a revolution directed by the West.