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Elderly in Belarus Demand Justice For Slain Anti-Government Protester

Pensioners and other march in an opposition rally in Minsk on November 16.
Pensioners and other march in an opposition rally in Minsk on November 16.

MINSK -- Demonstrators have marched in the Belarusian capital to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a day after hundreds of people were detained by security forces in the latest crackdown on protest against a disputed presidential election.

More than 1,000 people, including many pensioners and medics, marched through the streets of Minsk, shouting slogans such as "Murderers!" and "Tribunal!"

The rally was dubbed the March of Sorrow in commemoration of Raman Bandarenka, a 31-year-old who died in the hospital last week after reportedly being badly beaten by masked security forces.

Authorities blocked central Independence Square and nearby streets while several subway stations were closed. No detentions were reported during the retirees' seventh regular Monday protest in Minsk.

Lukashenka has been under the pressure of almost daily demonstrations following the presidential election on August 9 that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept.

Several protesters have been killed and thousands of people arrested since authorities declared Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, the landslide winner of the vote.

There have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.

Most of the country's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.

On November 15, police detained more than 1,200 people during protests across the country demanding Lukashenka's resignation and a new vote, according to the Vyasna human rights group.

The Interior Ministry said that more than 700 people were taken into pretrial detention for "breaching the laws on mass gatherings."

Most detentions were made in Minsk, where black-clad security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse thousands of demonstrators. Two people were beaten by masked security officers inside a grocery store. Videos showed police detaining people and taking them away in police vehicles.

Demonstrators chanted "I'm going out," the last known written words of Bandarenka, and other slogans such as "Lukashenka! Tribunal!”

Mobile Internet was down and several subway stations in the center of the capital were closed, while several streets and squares were cordoned off by police.

Detentions were also reported during smaller demonstrations in Homel, Hrodna, Mahilyou, and elsewhere.

At least 23 journalists were among those detained in Minsk and other cities, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

They included four contributors to RFE/RL's Belarus Service -- photo reporter Andrey Shauluha, cameraman Andrey Rabchyk, veteran reporter Ihar Karney, and chief video editor Yulia Kotskaya.

Vyasna said the total number of people detained since August is believed to be over 25,000.

In response to the crackdown and "falsification" of the presidential vote, the European Union and Western countries have imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said on November 16 that the German government was discussing with EU partners "about which additional restrictive measures might be suitable to further raise the pressure" on the Belarusian leadership.

The spokesman said that these measures "could be directed against companies which are involved in human rights violations," according to Reuters.

Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has said the vote was rigged in Lukashenka's favor and considers herself the rightful winner, called for international support for the demonstrators.

"We ask our allies to stand up for the Belarusian people and human rights. We need a humanitarian corridor for the injured, support for the media, international investigation of crimes," she wrote on Twitter.

Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus for Lithuania after the vote amid threats to her and her family.

With reporting by Reuters
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