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Belarusian Protesters Detained After Latest Weekly Protest


Dozens Detained In Latest Minsk Protest
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Several hundred protesters gathered in the center of Minsk and walked around clapping hands. Plainclothes officers arrested up to 50 people.

WATCH: Several hundred protesters gathered in the center of Minsk and walked around clapping hands. Plainclothes officers arrested up to 50 people.

Like every Wednesday for the past nine weeks, hundreds of disgruntled Belarusian gathered across the country for so-called "silent protests" against authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

And like on previous occasions, security forces violently dispersed the rallies and detained dozens of protesters.

Some 200 people took part in the Minsk protest, clapping their hands and stomping their feet despite an official ban on such rallies.

Some also chanted "Peremen" (Change), after a popular song by Soviet rock icon Viktor Tsoi's band Kino that heralded the Soviet Union's collapse.

The song, adopted by some protesters as a rallying cry, has recently disappeared from the airwaves of the country's radio stations.

Opposition to Lukashenka, famously dubbed by the former U.S. administration the "last dictator in Europe," has mounted since his brutal crackdown on rallies protesting his disputed December 2010 reelection.

Protests Dwindling?

A series of demonstrators were jailed for participating in the postelection protests -- including his leading rival in the elections, Andrey Sannikau, who was given a five-year sentence.

Another was 20-year-old Nikita Likhovid, who was jailed for 3 1/2 years in a high-security prison.

His mother, Yelena Likhovid, was among those detained at the July 20 rally in Minsk.

"I must fight together with my son and I will fight, I will go to protests whatever happens," she told RFE/RL from inside the police station. "I took to the street to voice my protest against this regime, in solidarity with my son."

Likhovid is among some 20 demonstrators due to appear in court on July 21 to face charges of taking part in an unsanctioned rally.

Protesters on July 20 turned up in smaller numbers than in recent weeks. A "silent protest" on July 3 led to the arrest of 400 people across Belarus.

But demonstrators said they were not discouraged by the low turnout. "Every demonstration on our part is a big success," one protester in Minsk said. "The country is rising up!"

...Or Growing Discontent?

Public discontent has further deepened since the postelection crackdown as the authorities scramble to fight a devastating financial crisis that has sent inflation soaring.

"We want a normal life," another protester in Minsk said. "I want my child to grow up in a normal country where she won't have to repay the government's debts."

Lukashenka, who faces growing international isolation, has described the "silent protests" as part of a foreign-inspired plot to topple him.

Since they started nine weeks ago, more than 1,500 protesters have been detained and many have been sentenced to fines or to brief prison stays.

written by Claire Bigg, based on agencies and reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service
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