Scores detained as mass protest in Belarus cracked down

Security forces in Belarus detained scores of protesters as the authorities launched a crackdown on mass demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko, news wires reported. Nearly a month after an election which Lukashenko’s opponents say he rigged, tens of thousands of people marched through Minsk, many decked out in red-and-white opposition colours and shouting “go away!” and “you’re a rat!”.

The authorities had laid barbed wire on the streets, and deployed military vehicles, prisoner vans, water cannons, helmeted riot police and plain clothes officers with masks and truncheons to try to contain the demonstrations. At least 100 people were detained, the government said, while the human rights group Spring-96 put the figure at more than 200. Local media also showed protests and detentions in other cities.

A witness said the harsh treatment of the protesters appeared to mark an escalation by the authorities after weeks of comparative restraint, although the violence was not as widespread and indiscriminate as in the protests’ first days. Footage from local media outlet TUT.BY showed a masked man beating a protester as he lay on the ground. Plain clothes officers could be seen smashing the glass door of a cafe to get at protesters sheltering inside.

“We ran into a cafe to hide from the riot police, they broke the glass, burst inside, pulled out three people, beat at least one,” Evgeny, a 28-year-old protester, said while waiters cleaned up the smashed glass.

A witness described helmeted security forces and men in plain clothes detaining at least two dozen protesters near President Alexander Lukashenko’s residence, and beating and kicking another man as he lay on the ground. Some protesters left chanting “we’ll be back”.

Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Karayev defended the actions of the security forces.“They talk about the brutality of the Belarusian police, and I want to say this: there are no more humane, restrained and cool-headed police anywhere in the world,” he said, according to the official Belta news agency.

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