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Belarus Police Stifle Protests On Independence Day

A protester is bundled away by unknown men in Minsk
A protester is bundled away by unknown men in Minsk
By RFE/RL
Belarusian police have brutally dispersed antigovernment rallies across the country, firing tear gas and detaining dozens of protesters.
 
Protesters gathered in Minsk and other Belarusian cities late on July 3 to voice their discontent with authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka by clapping their hands in unison.
 
Opposition activists had launched a call on social-networking websites for Belarusians to mark Independence Day -- a national holiday marking the end of Nazi occupation in 1944 -- by holding peaceful "clapping" protests.

Photos And Videos Of The Protests From RFE/RL's Belarus Service
 
RFE/RL reporter Halina Abakunchyk, who witnessed one of the protests outside Minsk's main railway station, said plainclothes police turned out in huge numbers and exchanged blows with demonstrators before detaining dozens of them.
 
Unprecedented Violence
 
She said the violence was unprecedented:
 
"I've never witnessed anything like this in Minsk in all the demonstrations I've covered. People are being snatched up on the streets. Police vans are coming up along the side streets," Abakunchyk said.
 
"They are detaining journalists, anyone they can get their hands on. They are beating them up, they don't care who is in front of them. Passersby try to defend those being assaulted, but the beating and the shoving people into police vans continues."
 
The protesters included young people but also the elderly and mothers with their children.
 
Opposition groups say around 400 people were detained countrywide.
 
Among those arrested were an RFE/RL correspondent. Like many of the detained protesters, he faces charges of participating in social unrest and has been summoned to appear in court on July 4. Several demonstrators have already been sentenced to up to 10 days in prison.
 
A "clapping" protest that erupted earlier in the day during Lukashenka's Independence Day speech was quietly stifled and several activists arrested.
 
In a bid to prevent the protests, authorities for several hours also blocked access on social-networking sites to groups calling for the rallies.

The website of RFE/RL's Belarus Service was also taken down for several hours by a suspected distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Other RFE/RL websites were also affected.
 
Soaring Inflation
 
Lukashenka, who faces international isolation over a December crackdown on postelection rallies, said that the latest protests were part of a foreign-inspired plot to topple him.
 
Speaking on July 3 before a military parade, Lukashenka said, "[Somebody] is trying to enforce here an immoral 'colored revolution' scenario, carbon-copied in the capitals of certain countries."
 
Protesters Beaten And Arrested In Belarusi
X
July 03, 2011
On Belarus' Independence Day on July 3, hundreds of people gathered near the main railway station in Minsk for a "silent protest" or "revolution via social network." Many were subsequently arrested or beaten by plainclothes police and security personnel. Footage taken by RFE/RL's Belarus Service.
WATCH: Protesters in Minsk are beaten and arrested by plainclothes police and security personnel. Footage taken by RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

"We understand that the goal of these attacks is to sow uncertainty and turbulence, to destroy public consent, and, in the end, to bring us to our knees and to bring all the achievements of our independence down to zero. This is not going to happen," the Belarusian president said.
 
Opposition to Lukashenka, famously dubbed by the former U.S. administration as the last dictator in Europe, has mounted since a brutal crackdown on rallies against his disputed reelection in December.
 
A number of demonstrators were sentenced to prison terms for participating in the protests, including his leading rival in the elections, Andrey Sannikau, who was jailed for five years.
 
Discontent has since deepened as authorities scramble to fight a devastating financial crisis that has sent inflation soaring.

reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service. Written by Claire Bigg with agency reports 
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