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Belarus Lukashenko: Protesters defy heavy security

Thousands of people have been making their way in columns towards the centre of the Belarusian capital Minsk for a new protest against the president.

Riot police, backed by water cannon and barriers, have sealed off parts of the city and a number of arrests have been made, with reports of injuries.

Protesters seek the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko.

They accuse the authorities of rigging his re-election just over a month ago, sparking deadly mass unrest.

At least four people have died and hundreds have been injured since then, as the government tried to stamp out dissent.

A number of opposition figures have fled the country, On Saturday, activist Olga Kovalkova became the latest to say she had taken refuge in neighbouring Poland amid threats of imprisonment.

Mr Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has accused Western nations of interfering.

Protesters, human rights activists and observers say riot police are brutally suppressing peaceful marches.

The former Soviet republic borders Russia, on which it depends heavily for energy and with which it historically has close ties, as well as Ukraine and EU states.

What is happening at the moment?

Sunday has become the key day for street demonstrations since the rallies began, the BBC's Jonah Fisher reports from Minsk.

image copyrightReuters
A woman addresses a Belarusian law enforcement officer during an opposition rally to protest against police brutality and to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, 6 Septemberimage copyrightReuters
Participants with rainbow-themed flags, representing the LGBT symbol, embrace near barriers erected by Belarusian law enforcement officers during an opposition rally to protest against police brutality and to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, 6 Septemberimage copyrightReuters

But riot police have intensified their efforts to intimidate and block the flow of people heading into the centre of city today, while detaining those taking part in the demonstrations, our correspondent says.

He adds that in the past few days the security forces – dressed all in black with balaclavas over their faces – targeted university students as they returned from their holidays, dragging some from the streets and university buildings into unmarked minivans.

Pictures on social media on Sunday showed armoured personnel carriers and water cannon vehicles driving into the centre of Minsk, some heading for Independence Square, which has been cordoned off.

One protester in Minsk who gave her name as Lyudmila told BBC News the demonstrators were undeterred by the security forces.

"We definitely not ready to get back to the life we had for many years now," she said.

"We finally feel like we matter because we've been living in apathy for way too long and now we just have this feeling of solidarity and we actually think that – well, I feel personally that – changes already are happening so that's definitely not the time to give up."

Protests are also being reported in other Belarusian cities and towns including Grodno, Mogilev and Gomel.

What happened to Olga Kovalkova?

The activist said on Saturday she had left for Poland as she would have faced a long jail term had she not agreed to leave Belarus.

Ms Kovalkova said security forces had driven her to a border post where she was able to board a bus to Poland after the driver recognised her.

Representative of the Co-ordination Council for members of the Belarusian opposition Olga Kovalkova holds flowers as she attends an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus August 22, 2020.image copyrightReuters

A spokesman for Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country would offer support to victims of repression in Belarus.

On Friday, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has sought refuge in Lithuania, urged the UN to help halt the authorities' crackdown on protesters.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. File photoimage copyrightEPA

Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, represented the chief opposition to Mr Lukashenko in the election, entering the presidential race after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, and another candidate were jailed.

She said the opposition was demanding an end to the police violRead More – Source

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