Sun, 17 Jan 2021

MINSK -- Belarusian activists say security forces have detained at least a dozen people as police broke up a protest march by pensioners demanding the resignation of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The crackdown came a day after police said they'd fired warning shots to force the dispersal of a mass demonstration in Minsk on November 29 and detained hundreds of protesters.

More than 1,000 pensioners gathered in Minsk on November 30 to stage what they called a 'March of Wisdom.' But the demonstrators were divided into smaller groups that marched in different directions after being blocked by police along their planned route.

At least 12 people were detained in the November 30 crackdown, according to the Minsk-based Vyasna human rights center.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.

Belarus has seen nearly daily protests since election officials declared Lukashenka won a sixth presidential term in a disputed August 9 election.

Neither the European Union nor the United States have recognized Lukashenka's reelection. Both have noted widespread allegations of election fraud.

Belarusian opposition figures are calling for Lukashenka's resignation, the release of all political prisoners, and a new election.

Belarusian authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations.

There have been mass arrests and widespread complaints about demonstrators being tortured in custody.

On November 29, security forces used tear gas and stun grenades against protesters in Minsk.

'Security officers had to use special means -- a number of warning shots of stun rounds fired into the air and tear gas,' Interior Ministry spokeswoman Volha Chamadanava wrote on Telegram on November 30.

SEE ALSO: More Than 300 Reported Detained In Belarus At Anti-Lukashenka Marches

Chamadanava said a total of 313 people were detained on November 29 on charges of violating laws that forbid the holding of public gatherings.

Vyasna said it calculated that more than 420 protesters were detained across the country on November 29.

The rights group said most were taken into custody in Minsk, though there also were detentions in Brest, Hrodna, Baraulyany, and other towns and cities.

Demonstrations were reported in almost all districts of Minsk, making it difficult to estimate how many people participated in the protests overall.

Unrecognized Reelection

Presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whom the opposition says was the real winner of the August election, expressed support for the ongoing protests.

'Every week the regime claims that the protests are subsiding,' she tweeted on November 29. 'Every week the regime sends its forces with tear gas, stun grenades to beat & scare the Belarusian people. Yet they gather every week to protest peacefully against Lukashenka's regime.'

Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus after the election under pressure from the authorities in Minsk and is currently in Lithuania.

During a visit to a Minsk hospital on November 27, Lukashenka implied that he would resign if a new constitution is adopted.

SEE ALSO: Lukashenka Says He Will Leave Post When New Constitution Is Adopted

'I will not work as president with you under the new constitution,' state media quoted him as saying.

Lukashenka has called several times for a new constitution, but the opposition has dismissed the statements as a bid to buy time and stay in power.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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