Tens of thousands of people demonstrated this Sunday in Minsk to protest against the re-election of President Alexandre Lukashenko, despite police repression that led to some 250 arrests.
The opposition, which has mobilized since the presidential elections of August 9 every weekend to more than 100,000 people only on the streets of the capital, once again I know faced a huge deployment of security forces, armed and equipped with armored and water-launch vehicles under pressure, especially in front of the headquarters of the presidency, one of the places of concentration.
Tens of thousands of people formed a river several kilometers long in the center of Minsk for the fifth Sunday in a row. The protest in the capital drew some 150,000 people, the activist group Viasna calculated.
The protest movement that has swept Belarus since the presidential election on August 9, that Lukashenko claims to have won with 80% of the votes, has managed to gather every Sunday since then, more than 100,000 people on the streets of the capital Minsk.
In recent years Lukashenko, in power since 1994, accused his historic Russian ally of “destabilizing” his country, but since the massive demonstrations against him began, he has turn 180 degrees and asks for the support of Russia against what it considers a western maneuver.
Despite the scale of the protests, Lukashenko refuses any concessions, and only alluded to a future and ambiguous reform of the Constitution.
“March of the heroes”
From the first moments of the parade, baptized “March of the heroes” referring to the victims of the repression, the police announced that they had proceeded to arrest “About 250 people” in Minsk for “using flags and other symbols” of the opposition. Last weekend some 600 were arrested in Minsk and other cities.
“I have come to march for freedom and I count on always coming to do so, as long as we do not achieve it by peaceful means” said a protester, Oleg Zimin, 60.
“We are willing to march until the power changes, and whenever we can do it physically. We have not missed a single Sunday “Two others abound, the brothers Matvei and Zajar Kravshenko, both in their twenties.
Saturday, riot police harshly broke up a concentration of women in the capital and arrested dozens of them, in a new day of protest.
Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, a candidate for the presidential election who claimed victory over Lukashenko and is in exile in Lithuania, in a video he greeted a “truly heroic people” who are continuing their “fight for freedom.”
Last week was marked by the bizarre arrest of one of his allies, the opposition Maria Kolésnikova, after resisting being expelled from the country, for which she tore her passport into pieces. Kolésnikova is now detained, accused of “threatening national security”.
Meeting with Putin
The domino protest ratifies the discontent in the country for the meeting Lukashenko will hold on Monday with Russian ruler Vladimir Putin, the first face-to-face since the protests broke out after the August 9 elections.
Putin has warned that Russia could dispatch police to Belarus if riots turn violent, raising fears that it wishes to use the protests as a pretext to annex the country as it did in Crimea – Ukraine’s territory – in 2014. Russia and Belarus have signed agreements whereby they maintain close political, economic and military relations, although Lukashenko has expressed fears that Putin wishes to invade.
Some observers are of the opinion that Lukashenko is going to his meeting with Putin with a weak position, and that Putin could take advantage of that to try to remove him from power.
According to some analysts, Russia will try to make the most of its support for the Belarusian president, who has no room for maneuver, and “It is completely dependent on Russia” to survive politically.
Moscow wants to deepen the existing political and economic union between the two countries, an idea that has been initially rejected by Lukashenko.
(With information from AFP and AP)