Police in Belarus crack down on protesters, detain dozens

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Security forces in Belarus detained dozens of protesters on Sunday and used force, including water cannon and batons, to break up crowds demanding a new presidential election, TV footage showed.

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Footage published by local news outlets showed police officers wearing black balaclavas dragging protesters into unmarked black vans and beating protesters with their batons at a rally that drew thousands onto the streets of Minsk, the capital.

One sequence showed a police van unleashing a powerful jet of water from a cannon into crowds, visibly pushing them back.

Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, has been rocked by street protests and strikes since authorities announced that veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko had won an Aug. 9 vote by a landslide.

People have since taken to the streets every week to demand that Lukashenko step down and allow for a new election to be held.

Lukashenko, a former collective farm manager who has been in power since 1994, denies his win was the result of cheating.

Security forces have detained more than 13,000 people during a post-election crackdown, some of whom have been later freed.

Lukashenko’s key political opponents are either in jail or have fled abroad.

Sunday’s violence followed a meeting Lukashenko held on Saturday in a Minsk jail with detained opposition leaders, an unusual event that prompted some opposition activists to believe he was preparing to make concessions.

Police in Minsk said on Sunday they had detained “several dozen” people.

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that around 50 people had been detained and that police had used stun grenades to dispel demonstrators.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions against a string of senior officials in Belarus accused of fraud and human rights abuses in the wake of the presidential election.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is now based in Lithuania, has called for new elections and for all political prisoners to be freed.

“We will continue to march peacefully and persistently and demand what is ours: new free and transparent elections,” Tsikhanouskaya wrote on her Telegram channel on Sunday.

Similar rallies were held in other cities across the country on Sunday.

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