Thousands form ‘lines of solidarity’ in Belarus

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Protesters have swarmed the streets in Belarus and thousands of workers have rallied outside industrial plants to denounce a police crackdown on demonstrations over the country’s disputed election.

Beginning in the morning, hundreds of women formed long “lines of solidarity” in several areas of capital city, Minsk, in protest against the disputed election result that has extended the 26-year rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Many were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of loved ones who have been detained during protests that began shortly after Sunday’s vote, which they said was rigged.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (Sergei Grits/AP)

The human chains grew throughout the day, filling the main central squares and avenues as motorists honked in support. In Minsk and many other cities, thousands of factory workers also rallied against the police violence, raising the prospect of strikes in a new challenge to the government.

Amid growing public dismay, dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they dumped their uniforms and insignia in bins. Several popular presenters at Belarus’s state TV stations have quit.

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Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in the clampdown on demonstrators protesting against the official results that said Mr Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and his top opposition challenger got only 10%. Police have broken up protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings.

“Belarusians have seen the villainous face of this government. I argued with my husband and voted for Lukashenko. And this is what I got in the end – I can’t find my relatives in prisons,” said Valentina Chailytko, 49, whose husband and son were detained in protests on Sunday. She has been unable to get any information on their whereabouts.

One protester died on Monday in Minsk after, the Interior Ministry says, an explosive device he tried to throw at police blew up in his hand. Some media reports have challenged that official version. Neither the ministry nor the media outlets have provided evidence.

Police on the streets of Minsk (Sergei Grits/AP)

Thousands of people have converged on the place where he died, many carrying flowers. European ambassadors also laid flowers at the site earlier in the day.

The authorities also confirmed that a detainee died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death were not immediately clear.

Hundreds of medical workers have joined the demonstrations in Minsk and many other cities.

“There is a feeling that a war is going on, but it’s a war against us,” said Mikhail Portnov, a 33-year old general practitioner. “We, doctors, see the price of this war as no-one else. We were ready for violence, but the brutality of it has crossed all limits.”

The unprecedented public opposition and unrest has been driven by the painful economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and Mr Lukashenko’s swaggering dismissal of the outbreak as a “psychosis”. The vote and the brutality of the subsequent crackdown – remarkable even for Mr Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule – have made the anger boil over. The 65-year-old former state farm director has been in power since 1994 and was nicknamed “Europe’s last dictator” by the West for his suppression of dissent.

“You can see the election result in the streets,” said 32-year old engineer Andrei Gubarevich, who joined a demonstration in Minsk. “Lukashenko has already lost.”

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