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Marchers Keep Up Pressure For Lukashenka's Resignation As Hundreds Detained


Belarusian pensioners carrying banned white-red-white flags and flowers parade through the streets of Minsk during a rally to demand the resignation of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and a new fair election on October 19.
Belarusian pensioners carrying banned white-red-white flags and flowers parade through the streets of Minsk during a rally to demand the resignation of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and a new fair election on October 19.

MINSK -- Several thousand retirees marched through the streets of the Belarusian capital as protesters kept up their demand for the ouster of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The participants in a so-called March of Wisdom in Minsk on October 19 chanted for Lukashenka to "Go away!" following a presidential election in August that the opposition and the West say was rigged.

Pro-Lukashenka pensioners also rallied in the city, many of them men in military and security forces uniforms, with banners with slogans such as "For peace, prosperity, and traditional values."

The previous day, tens of thousands of protesters marched in Minsk and other cities despite a threat from the Interior Ministry to use deadly force.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Volha Chemodanova said on October 19 that police detained 280 people for violating the law on mass events, including 215 in the capital, Minsk.

Of those, 237 remain in custody pending a court appearance, she wrote on her Telegram channel.

The authorities deployed military trucks and water cannons in Minsk but police largely refrained from using them to quell the October 18 march.

Chemodanova earlier told AFP that members of law enforcement fired rubber bullets as a warning to protesters who threw stones at police.

In the days leading up to the rally, First Deputy Interior Minister Henadz Kazakevich threatened to use "lethal weapons if need be" on protesters to break up the demonstrations, which the authorities have called illegal.

Kazakevich claimed that protesters had become "extremely radical."

His statement was the first time Belarusian authorities have explicitly threatened to use firearms against opposition demonstrators. He did not carry out his threat.

Belarus has been rocked by protests since Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared the winner of the August 9 presidential election amid allegations of widespread vote rigging.

More than 12,000 Belarusians have been detained and hundreds tortured during protests over the ensuing weeks.

However, the authorities have been unable to stamp out the movement and a stalemate has ensued.

The Minsk marchers peacefully made their way down one of Minsk's main avenues, where plants and factories are located, on the cool, overcast day waving the banned red-and-white flag of the opposition.

"Look out the window, stop watching TV," the protesters chanted, a reference to state-controlled media downplaying the size and peaceful nature of the rallies.

The protesters also called for Lukashenka's arrest and chanted "Strike!" and "The workers are with the people."

Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her supporters have stepped up their pressure by setting October 25 as the date for Lukashenka to step down or face a nationwide strike.

Lukashenka has lost the support of many state workers, long considered his base, as the economy has struggled under his rule in recent years.

In an interview with RFE/RL published on October 16, Tsikhanouskaya -- who was forced to flee to Lithuania after the election that her supporters and others say she won -- said that the decision to announce the so-called "People's Ultimatum" was not made solely by her, but by opposition groups, including her team, the opposition Coordination Council, opposition political parties, protest groups, representatives of striking workers, and Belarusian citizens who were beaten and tortured by law enforcement in recent months.

"The ultimatum was pushed forward by people, I just announced it to make it public," said Tsikhanouskaya, who could face up to five years in prison in Belarus if detained and found guilty.

Tsikhanouskaya added that even "many" officers in law enforcement were seeking help from opposition groups to take their families out of Belarus in order to be able to openly refuse to take part in beatings and violently dispersing protesters across the country.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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