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Police In Belarus Block Demonstrators From Opposition Rally, Dozen Detained

Police detain an opposition supporter trying to take part in a rally to mark 101 years since the failed attempt to create the independent Belarusian People's Republic in 1918.

MINSK -- Police in the Belarusian capital have prevented several hundred opposition activists from holding a rally and detained at least a dozen of them.

The antigovernment rally in Minsk on March 25 was planned to mark the 101st anniversary of the day Belarusian politicians in 1918 proclaimed independence from Russia.

The Belarusian People's Republic lasted until 1919, when it was effectively taken over by Soviet Russia.

Police forces cordoned off the main square in Minsk where an unsanctioned rally was to be held on March 25.

At least a dozen protesters were detained, according to the Minsk-based human rights group Vyasna.

Many protesters were carrying the red and white flag of the 1918 republic that was also used by Belarus from 1991-95. It has become a symbol of the opposition and is banned by the government.

While most of the activists were released, at least one remained in detention.

Among those earlier detained were opposition politicians Vital Rymasheuski and Mikalay Kozlov, and musicians Lyavon Volski, Zmitser Vaytyushkevich, Paval Arakelyan, and Ihar Varashkevich, according to Vyasna.

Several thousand people gathered on March 23 in the city of Hrodna to mark the anniversary.

People gathered in a local park for the event that was approved by local authorities, singing patriotic songs and waving flags of the Belarusian People’s Republic.

Activists had used social media to organize the event after authorities in Minsk refused to allow them to hold the event there.

Known as Freedom Day, the anniversary is traditionally a day for opponents of the authoritarian government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to stage protests.

The Belarusian opposition accuses Lukashenka, who has been in office since 1994, of attempting to erase Belarusian identity and "Russifying" the former Soviet republic.

During his two decades in power, Lukashenka has systemically quashed opposition parties, independent media, and civil society groups. Outbursts of political protests have been met with violence.

With reporting by AP and Interfax
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