Belarus detains three leading opposition activists amid continuing protests

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Belarusian authorities have detained three leading opposition activists who’ve helped spearhead a wave of protests demanding the resignation of the country’s authoritarian ruler.

The opposition’s Co-ordination Council said its members Sergei Dylevsky and Olga Kovalkova were detained by police in the capital, Minsk. Later in the day, the opposition also reported the detention of Alexander Lavrinovich, the leader of striking workers at a major industrial plant.

Show of force

The move signals president Alexander Lukashenko’s determination to stifle the massive demonstrations that have entered their third week. It comes a day after the 65-year-old Belarusian leader toted an assault rifle in a show of force as he arrived at his residence by helicopter as protesters rallied nearby.

Alexander Lukashenko armed with a rifle
Alexander Lukashenko armed with a rifle (State TV and Radio Company of Belarus via AP)
Video showed Lukashenko getting off his helicopter with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle. No ammunition clip was visible in the weapon, suggesting that Lukashenko aimed only to make a show of aggression.

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He thanked riot police who encircled the residence to safeguard it. “We will deal with them,” Lukashenko said about the demonstrators.

Largest ever demo in Belarus

Last week, Lukashenko warned the council created to negotiate a transition of power that it could face criminal accusations for creating what he described as a parallel government. The Belarusian prosecutors then opened a criminal inquiry into the council members on charges of undermining national security. These claims were rejected by the council’s members.

The detention of opposition activists follows a demonstration in Minsk on Sunday 23 August that drew an estimated 200,000 people. They were pushing for Lukashenko to step down following the election on 9 August, which the opposition saw as rigged. Sunday 16 August saw a similar number of demonstrators, which is the largest ever in the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million people.

Protests in response to post-election crackdown

The protests were galvanised by a brutal post-election crackdown. It saw nearly 7,000 people detained and hundreds injured after police dispersed peaceful protesters with rubber-coated bullets, stun grenades and clubs.

As crowds of protesters swelled amid public outrage, the authorities backed off and let demonstrations go unhindered. However, authorities have beefed up police cordons around the city and threatened opposition activists with criminal charges.

Protesters march to Independence Square in Minsk
Protesters march to Independence Square in Minsk (AP/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The demonstrators approached the edges of the presidential residence grounds, but stopped after encountering lines of police in full riot gear. They dispersed shortly after.

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