poliPolice in the capital of Belarus have cracked down sharply on a women’s protest march demanding the authoritarian president’s resignation.
Officers arrested more than 200 demonstrators, including an elderly woman. The woman has become a symbol of the six weeks of protest that have rocked the country. More than 2,000 women took part in the march in Minsk.
Such anti-government marches have become a regular feature of the unprecedented wave of large protests. They began after the 9 August presidential election.
Officials said president Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in office with 80% support in that vote. But opponents and some poll workers say the results were rigged.
During Lukashenko’s 26 years in office, he has consistently repressed opposition and independent news media.
Large demonstrations have been taking place in cities throughout the country. And some protests on Sunday 20 September in Minsk have attracted crowds estimated at up to 200,000 people.
Human rights group Viasna said the police arrested more than 200 people during the march on Saturday 19 September. Viasna member Valentin Stepanovich told the Associated Press:
There were so many people detained that lines formed at the prisoner transports
Among those detained was Nina Bahinskaya, a 73-year-old former geologist. Her defiance has made her a popular figure in the protests.
Many of the women in Saturday’s march chanted “We’re walking!”. This is a reference to when police told Bahinskaya that she was taking part in an unauthorised protest and she snapped back, “I’m taking a walk”.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main opponent in the election, praised the women’s march. She did this via a video statement from Lithuania, where she fled after the election. She said:
They have frightened and put pressure on women for the second month, but despite this, Belarusians are continuing their peaceful protest and showing their amazing fortitude
Several top members of the Coordination Council, which the opposition has created to push for a new election, have been jailed. And others have been forced to leave the country. Maxim Znak, a leading member of the council, declared a hunger strike in prison on Friday 18 September.
In August, police detained thousands of protesters, some of whom had deep bruises from police beatings. Still, that did not stop the protests from growing to include strikes at major factories that had previously been a source of support for the embattled Lukashenko.
In a new strategy to stem the huge Sunday rallies, the Belarusian prosecutor general’s office said it has tracked down parents who took their children to opposition demonstrations.
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