The police in Minsk took action against demonstrators again. Hundreds of people had gathered there peacefully despite a ban on demonstrations.
Before a special meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the situation in Belarus, opponents of the authoritarian head of state Alexander Lukashenko were arrested en masse in Minsk. The Belarusian special police OMON took action against peaceful demonstrators in the capital on Friday night. The human rights organization Wesna spoke of more than 200 arrests – significantly more than in the past few days.
The security forces had recently held back. There were only a few arrests – after almost 7,000 people were put in confined spaces in the first days of the protests following the controversial presidential election on August 9. Most of them were released a few days later, also due to international pressure.
President Lukashenko recently announced that it would take systematic action against demonstrators. He will cope with it – no matter how hard his opponents tried to destabilize the situation in the country, he said on Thursday. Numerous journalists were also temporarily detained in the evening.
The security forces, armed with black face masks, surrounded Independence Square in the center of Minsk, as a reporter from the German press agency reported on site. Hundreds of people had gathered there peacefully despite a ban on demonstrations. They shouted “Freedom!” And “Get out of here!”
Men in particular were taken into custody and driven away in prisoner trucks. The OMON had come in hundreds in large green personnel carriers without license plates. Loudspeaker announcements warned of the unauthorized demonstration – and openly threatened violence because of participation in the rally.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously said that at Lukashenko’s request, he had set up a reserve with his own security forces in the event of an intervention in Belarus. However, it is only used when “the situation gets out of hand,” the Kremlin chief told the station Rossiya 1. At the moment there is no need for it. Russia is a close ally of Belarus.
The trigger for the mass protests was the election almost three weeks ago. Lukashenko, decried as the “last dictator in Europe”, claims victory in the vote. The official result of 80.1 percent for him after 26 years in power has been criticized internationally as being grossly falsified.
The OSCE Permanent Council will deal with the situation in the country between Russia and EU member Poland on Friday. The committee with representatives from 57 countries meets on the initiative of the currently presiding country Albania. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama will comment on the conflict in Belarus and the possible role of the OSCE.
The organization recently offered to mediate between demonstrators and the government. Belarus is a member of the OSCE, but the controversial President Alexander Lukashenko has so far rejected the role of mediator. In Belarus, a coordination council was established by the democracy movement, which seeks a peaceful change of power in Belarus through dialogue.
The situation in Minsk was more tense on Thursday than in the previous days. There was great anger after people were held by OMON forces for 40 minutes in the Catholic Church on Independence Square the previous evening. In protest against the arbitrariness, the democracy movement in Belarus called on believers of all religious communities to rally against the police state. Hundreds of people answered the call that evening. They said loud prayers for peace as the security forces stepped in.