Protesters keep pressure on Belarus leader

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied again in Belarus' capital Friday to protest the disputed re-election of the nation's authoritarian president, while police dispersed university students attempting to show solidarity with peers who were detained earlier in the week, news wires reported. Belarusians have turned out in en masse for nearly four weeks to protest the official election results that gave Lukashenko a sixth term with 80% of the vote.

During the first few days of post-election protests, police detained nearly 7,000 people and beat hundreds, drawing international outrage and causing the anti-government demonstrations to swell. The government has since shifted tactics, seeking to squelch protests with threats, the selective detention of protesters and the prosecution of activists.

Information technology workers and other protesters formed “chains of solidarity” in various parts of Minsk to keep pushing for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko. On Friday, police entered the State Linguistics University in Minsk to disperse an action by students who were expressing solidarity with classmates detained earlier. Officers rounded up several participants.

Belarusian authorities have specifically targeted members of the Coordination Council that opposition activists set up after the election to try to negotiate a transition of power. Two of its members were given 10-day jail sentences on charges of staging unsanctioned protests last week, and a court in Minsk handed them new 15-day sentences Thursday.

Earlier this week, six Belarusian journalists were detained while covering a student demonstration and charged with taking part in unsanctioned protests. During a Friday court hearing, police officers in ski masks testified against them via a video link. The journalists could get 15-day jail sentences, if convicted. Authorities also have revoked the accreditation of many Belarusian journalists and deported some foreign journalists

On Thursday, two popular TV anchors who resigned from state TV in solidarity with the protesters were handed 10-day sentences for taking part in unauthorized rallies. “They beat journalists, they put them on trial, strip them of their credentials and deport them from the country,” Andrei Bastunets, head of the Belarusian Associaton of Journalists, told The Associated Press. “The law doesn’t work, they accuse journalists with cameras of coordinating the protests.”

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