Demonstrations took place in Minsk, towns outside the Belarusian capital, and in Warsaw on March 21 as part of ongoing protests sparked by the August presidential election that the Belarusian opposition says was rigged.
Women marched peacefully in the Sukharevo district of Minsk to express solidarity with other women protesters and unprecedented daily demonstrations since the election that have called for the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a fresh election, and the release of people detained in the government’s violent crackdown on demonstrators.
Small demonstrations were also held in towns near Minsk. Photos on social media showed people holding up the opposition’s red-and-white banner and promoting renewed pro-democracy protests set to kick off on March 25, the anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic, which existed for less than a year in 1918.
In Poland, a small group of demonstrators gathered on the steps of Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science on March 21. They waved Belarusian opposition flags and held banners with slogans indicating their solidarity with demonstrators in Belarus who have been waging the anti-Lukashenka campaign for more than 220 days.
One of the signs had the number 25 in an apparent reference to the upcoming demonstrations, which opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has promoted as a "second wave of protests."
The March 21 rallies came a day ahead of a forum hosted by the Lithuanian parliament (Seimas) in cooperation with Tsikhanouskaya’s office.
Participants in the forum on March 22 will discuss how to help Belarus emerge from its current political crisis, how to organize negotiations and international mediation, and how to influence authorities in Belarus.
Tsikhanouskaya will participate in the event along with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and David McAllister, chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.
Lukashenka, who is not recognized by many Western governments, has refused to meet with opposition leaders to discuss their demands for his exit and a fresh election.
The authoritarian leader was declared president for a sixth straight term after the August 9 election despite the opposition's belief that Tsikhanouskaya was the rightful winner.
The brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations has included tens of thousands of detentions and thousands of criminal cases.
About 1,000 cases of torture have been documented by human rights NGOs, 290 people are currently being held as political prisoners, and at least eight protesters have been killed, according to Tsikhanouskaya.