Belarus protesters rally again as opposition reaches out to Biden

·3-min read
Security forces detain a man during the latest opposition rally in the capital Minsk against the Belarus presidential election three months ago. The opposition leader in exile says she hopes to soon meet with US President-elect Joe Biden.

Belarus protesters rally again as opposition reaches out to Biden

Security forces detain a man during the latest opposition rally in the capital Minsk against the Belarus presidential election three months ago. The opposition leader in exile says she hopes to soon meet with US President-elect Joe Biden.

Protesters gathered in Belarus Sunday for the latest in weeks of unprecedented demonstrations against strongman Alexander Lukashenko, with the opposition leader saying she hopes to soon meet with US President-elect Joe Biden.

For three months running, tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Belarus on Sundays to protest against the disputed re-election of Lukashenko, who has been in power for more than two decades.

Lukashenko's opponents are demanding he hand power to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a political novice who ran against Lukashenko in the August 9 presidential race.

Several thousand protesters, many carrying the red-and-white opposition flag, joined a march in central Minsk on Sunday.

Police vans and water cannons had been deployed to the centre of the city with police sporadically detaining protesters in various locations.

Human rights group Viasna reported that more than 120 people had been detained.

An AFP journalist in the capital Minsk reported that mobile internet access was restricted in the city centre. As in previous weeks several metro stations in the city were closed. 

From exile in Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya said protests would continue "until victory" and that the past 90 days had shown authorities they had "lost legitimacy and power".

"The regime doesn't want to give us the right to decide what will happen next to our country," Tikhanovskaya wrote on her Telegram channel on Sunday.

Tikhanovskaya, 38, says she was the true winner of the presidential poll and has gained the support of several Western leaders, who have refused to recognise the election results.

On Saturday she congratulated Biden and said she hopes to meet with the newly elected president.

- 'Stolen elections' -

"This was a real race of ideas, programmes and teams, unlike Belarus, where votes at elections were simply stolen, in the United States the vote of every voter was taken into account," she said.

She said she believed Biden will "soon meet with the fairly elected president of the new, free Belarus."

Democrat Biden has previously voiced support for the Belarusian opposition and promised he would expand sanctions against Lukashenko's regime. 

Lukashenko on Saturday called the US vote a "mockery of democracy" and said he doesn't expect relations with Washington to change no matter the election outcome.

Apart from the large-scale Sunday protests, smaller rallies have been organised by professional groups such as teachers, students and medics.

On Saturday, around 50 medical workers held a protest outside a Minsk hospital, local news outlets reported. Dozens of them were detained. 

In October, several state universities expelled students who organised sit-in protests on campus.

The European Union has slapped sanctions on Lukashenko, 66, and several of his allies, imposing a travel ban and asset freezes, for vote-rigging and police violence.

Earlier protests in Minsk were met with a brutal crackdown with police using stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the gatherings. 

Many of those detained reported brutal treatment including beatings and torture at the hands of security forces.

Authorities have also threatened to use live ammunition on protesters. 

With Moscow-backed Lukashenko refusing to step down and the opposition unable to force his resignation, the political situation appears to have reached an impasse.

Last week, Belarus closed land borders with Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and Poland, and banned foreigners from entering the country via land border crossings.

Two weeks ago, the opposition announced a nationwide strike but it did not gain momentum and its effects on the country's economy appear to have been limited.

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