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Belarus opposition rallies in latest protest

By AFP - Dec 06,2020 - Last updated at Dec 06,2020

MINSK — Opposition protesters in Belarus rallied on Sunday in the latest of nearly four months of demonstrations against the reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Videos on social media showed small groups of protesters gathered in courtyards as others marched through the capital Minsk with the opposition red and white flags.

In contrast to the mass protests on Sunday that had occurred since the August vote, the opposition has for weeks sought to foil a toughening crackdown by staging numerous smaller protests that day.

An AFP journalist saw police dispersing groups of even 10 to 15 people and witnessed three arrests.

"I cannot understand how we could stop when people have suffered and continue to suffer. We cannot close our eyes to this," Svetlana Onufrienko, a 31-year-old lawyer, told AFP.

Human rights group Viasna said that 106 people had been taken into police custody mainly in Minsk as of 14:00 GMT.

Water cannon were set up in the city centre and the authorities limited connection to networks such as the Telegram messaging app, which protesters use to coordinate.

Belarus has been gripped by massive protests since August after Lukashenko, 66, won a sixth term as president of the former Soviet republic.


‘Will not surrender’


The opposition says the election was rigged and political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in the place of her jailed husband — was the true winner of the vote.

“Each march is a reminder that Belarusians will not surrender. We will not allow our rights to be taken away and turn a blind eye to crimes,” Tikhanovskaya, 38, wrote on her Telegram channel from exile.

Authorities have imposed a heavy crackdown in recent weeks, detaining hundreds of protesters and preventing gatherings in the centre of Minsk.

In response, Lukashenko’s opponents have changed tactics, calling on supporters to gather in small groups in neighbourhoods across the capital rather than staging massive marches through the centre.

Local media reported that several dozen meeting points were planned for Sunday across Minsk and in other cities.

In the first days of the demonstrations in August, Belarus police detained thousands of protesters, with many reporting torture and abuse in custody.

The European Union has slapped sanctions on Lukashenko and a number of his allies over election rigging and the violent crackdown on demonstrators.

Tikhanovskaya fled to EU member Lithuania soon after the August election. She has received support from several Western leaders, who refuse to recognise the election results.

Lukashenko, who has the firm backing of Moscow, has refused to step down and instead has suggested reforming the constitution as a way of placating the opposition.

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