Belarusian police on Monday reported 633 arrests during a massive opposition demonstration on Sunday to protest the controversial re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, the largest crackdown since early August.
Another arrest symbolizing an intensification of the repression on the part of the authorities, that of the opponent Maria Kolesnikova, one of the only important figures of the protest movement who chose not to go into exile abroad.
According to testimonies gathered by her political allies, Ms. Kolesnikova was taken in a vehicle Monday morning by strangers and no longer answers her phone. She is a member of the opposition “coordinating council”, against which the authorities have taken legal action for “threat to national security”.
Sunday’s demonstration drew a record crowd of over 100,000 in Minsk for the fourth consecutive weekend, despite an impressive deployment of law enforcement and military forces in the capital.
“A total of 633 people were arrested yesterday for violating the law on mass events,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that 363 of them remained in pre-trial detention awaiting review of their files by the courts.
Images had shown on Sunday hooded men in civilian clothes and armed with batons circulating in the city center and chasing protesters. Other protest actions took place in many cities across the country, notably in Grodno (west) or Brest (west).
Alexandre Loukachenko, 66, including 26 at the head of Belarus, continues to exclude any dialogue and seeks support from Moscow. Far from backing down, the authorities last week stepped up arrests in response to the mobilization of students.
– Russian support –
The authorities’ repressive response also targeted Belarusian journalists, some 20 of whom were arrested, while several others working for foreign media, including AFP, had their accreditation withdrawn without explanation.
The repression had been particularly brutal in the first days following the August 9 election. At least three people were killed, dozens injured and more than 7,000 arrested during the first demonstrations. Numerous cases of torture and ill-treatment had also been documented.
Since then, arrests had been fewer but the government has on the other hand increased the pressure targeting striking workers or faces of the opposition, many of whom have taken refuge abroad for fear of arrest as the figurehead. of the movement, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa.
Click here to enlarge
Another figure of the movement, Olga Kovalkova, said on Saturday that she had found refuge in Poland after being threatened by the Belarusian secret service.
Alexander Lukashenko, who before the election did not have enough harsh words to denounce the attempts to “destabilize” Moscow, now denounces a Western “conspiracy” and does everything to get closer to Russia, his closest ally and partner economic.
Russia stepped up its support with the visit to Minsk on Thursday of its Prime Minister Mikhail Michoustine, the first displacement of this level since the start of the crisis.
The Europeans, for their part, rejected the results of the presidential election of August 9 and are preparing sanctions against senior Belarusian officials. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have already declared persona non grata Alexander Lukashenko and 29 people linked to his power.