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Two Activists Detained As Protests Continue At Minsk Memorial Honoring Soviet Victims

Belarus Removes Crosses From Stalin Victims Memorial
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WATCH: Police in Belarus have detained at last 15 activists who protested against the removal of dozens of wooden crosses from the Kurapaty memorial site commemorating victims of Soviet-era repressions.

MINSK -- Two activists in Belarus have been detained as protests continued over the fate of a wooded area on the outskirts of Minsk where at least 30,000 people killed by Soviet authorities were buried during the 1930s and 1940s.

Police took the two into custody on April 5 as they protested against workers installing metal fences around the area, a day after they removed some 70 wooden crosses commemorating victims of Soviet-era repressions from the memorial site at Kurapaty.

Two activists -- the co-chairman of the opposition Christian Democratic Party's founding committee, Paval Sevyarynets, who was broadcasting the workers' activities live viaon social media, and Nina Bahinskaya -- were detained by police at the site.

Witnesses said workers did not remove any of the remaining crosses, but excavators were present and work was conducted amid the playing of loud music, which the protesters said went against the somber nature of the area.

Sevyarynets and Bahinskaya were among 15 activists who were detained for several hours the day before at the site while protesting the removal of the crosses.

It remains unclear on whose authority the crosses were being removed, as there was no official statement about the work from Belarusian government officials.

Presidential spokeswoman Natallya Eismant said on April 4 that in his marathon press conference in March, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka promised "to bring Kurapaty to order," to make it "a place that looks proper, without any political connotations."

In 2017, Belarusian authorities halted the construction of a business center near the protected historical site following a 15-day protest by activists.

The protesters said at the time that the project would desecrate the memory of the victims of Soviet ruler Josef Stalin.

Lukashenka's government tolerates little dissent and authorities frequently break up protests.

Lukashenka, who has been president since 1994, won a fifth term in a 2015 election that was deemed by Western monitors as neither free nor fair.

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