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Thousands continue protests in Belarus as president discusses unrest with Vladimir Putin

Crowds gathered in Minsk to honour a protester who died during this week’s crackdown.

An opposition supporter presents a flower to soldier in Minsk yesterday
An opposition supporter presents a flower to soldier in Minsk yesterday
Image: Sergei Grits/PA Images

SEVERAL THOUSAND PEOPLE gathered in Minsk on Saturday after Belarus’s opposition called for more protests over President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.

A large crowd had formed near the Pushkinskaya metro station in the capital in honour of a protester who died there during this week’s police crackdown on demonstrators.

Demonstrators laid flowers at the site where Alexander Taraikovsky, 34, died on Monday during clashes between protesters and police a day after the election that Lukashenko claims to have won with 80 percent of the vote.

Many chanted “Leave!” and some held pictures of protesters with severe bruises, after accounts emerged of detained demonstrators being beaten and tortured.

Others carried signs reading “No to Violence” and “No More Torture”.

It followed calls by the country’s main election challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya for her supporters to rally again this weekend, just days after she appeared to suggest they should stop.

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who ran after other opposition candidates including her husband were jailed, has accused Lukashenko of rigging the vote and has demanded he step down so new elections can be held.

She left the country on Tuesday for neighbouring Lithuania, with her allies saying she came under official pressure, but on Friday re-emerged with the call for a weekend of “peaceful mass gatherings” in cities across the country.

She is also demanding authorities be held to account for a police crackdown on post-election protests that saw more than 6,700 people arrested. 

Police have used rubber bullets, stun grenades and, in at least one case, live rounds to disperse the crowds, with hundreds injured. 

Officials have confirmed two deaths during the unrest, including Taraikovsky, who they say died when an explosive device went off in his hand during a protest, and another man who died in custody after being arrested in the southeastern city of Gomel.

Taraikovsky’s funeral was being held on Saturday and a ‘March for Freedom’ is planned in central Minsk on Sunday, after main opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called for a weekend of new demonstrations.

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President Lukashenko discussed the protests with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Belarusian state news agency Belta reported.

“The presidents discussed the situation that is unfolding inside and around Belarus,” Belta reported, citing Lukashenko’s press service.

Authorities began releasing hundreds of those arrested last night, and many emerged from detention with horrific accounts of beatings and torture.

Amnesty International has condemned what it calls “a campaign of widespread torture and other ill-treatment” by the the Belarusian government against the protestors.

© AFP 2020

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