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Police Arrest Dozens In Minsk As Women Keep Up Protests Against Belarus's Lukashenka


Police Crack Down On Women’s Protest In Minsk
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Police Crack Down On Women’s Protest In Minsk

Police in Belarus on September 12 arrested dozens of women who took part in a protest against the disputed reelection of longtime authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the detention of activists and others in the government’s postelection crackdown.

RFE/RL’s Belarus Service said several thousand people gathered in the center of Minsk for what was planned as a women’s march.

Riot police reportedly warned the crowd that the gathering was not sanctioned before arresting demonstrators and forcing them into vans.

Vyasna, a human rights organization in Belarus, said at least 45 people were detained in the capital city.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry, Volha Chemodanova, told the AFP news agency that "women had been detained" but could not say how many or provide additional details.

Belsat, a Warsaw-based opposition television channel, said on the messaging application Telegram that two of its journalists covering the protest had also been detained.

An RFE/RL correspondent said in some cases groups of women were defending others to prevent police from arresting them.

Belarus has witnessed daily protests since the disputed August 9 presidential election. The 66-year-old Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared the winner, amid charges that the vote was rigged.

No vote in Belarus under Lukashenka's rule has been deemed free or fair by the West.

His main opposition challenger, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, now in Lithuania, said she won the poll with 60 to 70 percent of ballots.

Thousands have been detained and hundreds beaten by the police in the government’s postelection crackdown, sparking Western condemnation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has for years pressed a reluctant Lukashenka on closer integration between the two countries, has backed the beleaguered Belarusian strongman who has maintained his grip on power by stifling civil society and the press.

Putin and Lukashenka are due to hold their first face-to-face talks since the Belarusian crisis erupted in Sochi on September 14.

Putin has promised Lukashenka aid, including possible military assistance under a bilateral military pact, including a police force.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said on September 11 that Russia risks losing the friendship of the Belarusian people if the Kremlin continues to back Lukashenka.

Biegun said most Belarusians "have seen Russia as the country closest to their hearts and we respect that sentiment and sovereign choice. It thus eludes us how Moscow could back such a regime and such violence against peaceful citizens, exercising constitutionally protected rights to freedom of assembly, association, and speech.”

Biegun called on Lukashenka to hold talks with the Coordinating Council that was set up by opposition leaders following the election to facilitate a transfer of power, saying the strongman had been "rejected by his own people."

His comments came as Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich said she feared her country could lose its independence amid the political strife and called on Russian intellectuals for support.

"Why aren't you helping my little nation maintain its dignity and statehood," she said, addressing Russians.

Alexievich, who is one of the seven members of the Coordinating Council's presidium, warned that, if Lukashenka doesn't negotiate, the problems will fester and "we will get nothing but a civil war."

With reporting by Reuters
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    RFE/RL's Belarus Service is one of the leading providers of news and analysis to Belarusian audiences in their own language. It is a bulwark against pervasive Russian propaganda and defies the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.