Kiev, Ukraine (AP) — On Sunday, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding the expulsion of the country’s authoritarian leader, who won his sixth term in an election widely regarded as rigged
More than 50,000 people took part in the rally in Minsk, according to the Viasna Center for Human Rights. The protesters held up a banner mocking President Alexander Lukasenko, who had run the country for 26 years, and shouted “Go away!”
Massive protests shook Belarus after the August 9 presidential election, when Lukasenko won with 80% votes. His main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, won 10%. She and her supporters disapproved of the results, claiming that the results were manipulated.
Authorities tried to quell the anxiety by mass detention and police dispersing the crowd with clubs, stun grenades and water cannons. On Monday, the Interior Ministry said the rally was “organized and extremely radical,” threatening to use firearms against protesters if necessary. However, despite the crackdown, the protests continue.
“This is the first march since the authorities threatened to use firearms. But that alone did not stop the protests that transformed into other forms but did not die,” said Viasna leader Ales Bialiatski.
Chicanus Kaya, now in exile in Lithuania for fear of his safety, threatened to declare a nationwide strike on Tuesday, unless Lukasenko declared his resignation, freed political prisoners and stopped cracking down on protesters.
In a statement, Tsikhanouskaya said, “If our demands are not met by October 25th, the whole country will go to the streets peacefully. “On October 26th, a nationwide strike for all businesses will begin, all roads will be shut down and sales of state-owned stores will collapse.”
On Sunday, protesters marched on one of Minsk’s main roads, home to plants and factories, and shouted “Strike!” And “workers are with people.”
The city center was blocked by water cannons and armored vehicles, and dozens of military trucks were seen wandering the streets. Several subway stations were closed and mobile internet did not work in the march area.
“Lukashenko understands that Minsk as a whole would have come (to rally) without all these artificial obstacles,” said Valery Karbalevich, Minsk’s independent political analyst.
“People go to the streets despite the threat of firearms and the threat of the KGB (Belarus National Security Council). The protests are not over and show that the political crisis in Belarus is in full swing,” said Karbalevich. .
In a statement on Sunday, Tsikhanouskaya encouraged the Belarusians to continue peaceful protests.
“Let’s continue to express our needs peacefully and patiently,” she said. We are getting results,” she added, adding that the authorities have released Ilya Salei, the lawyer of Tsikhanouskaya’s best colleague Maria Kolesnikova, from detention.
Coles Nikova was imprisoned last month for undermining national security, which could lead to a five-year prison sentence if convicted. Salie was also detained in September on the same charges.
Except for Minsk, Sunday protests took place in several large cities, including Brest, Grodno, Gomel and Vitebsk. Dozens of protesters have been detained across the country. The names of more than 150 people were listed on the list of detained protesters released by the Viasna Center on Sunday evening.