More than 100,000 people marched in Belarus’ capital on Sunday to protest against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who won his sixth term in office in an election widely seen as rigged.
The demonstrators demanded Lukashenko’s resignation and freedom for political prisoners.
Police used water cannons in an attempt to disperse the crowds, but the protesters were undeterred.
One video from the rally showed a group of protesters approaching a water cannon vehicle, opening a hatch on its side and removing pieces from inside the vehicle.
Media reports said that the water cannon malfunctioned after that and was driven away.
The Viasna human rights center said that about 120,000 took part in Minsk rally and that more than 160 people were detained on Sunday in Minsk and other cities.
“A campaign of intimidation and persecution, unprecedented for Europe, has been launched in Belarus against peaceful citizens who want one thing — free elections,” Viasna leader Ales Bialiatski said.
Police detained 317 people during protests in Minsk and across the country on Sunday, the Belarusian Ministry of the Interior said yesterday.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania, on Sunday issued a statement supporting the protest and demands to free political prisoners.
“These are the people who, like Siarhei Tsikhanouski, haven’t seen their family and children for several months. These are the people who suffered for their convictions, and are still suffering. Our goal is to free them. So I support everyone who takes to the streets in their city today,” she said.
“Let the whole world see: Belarusians want to live in freedom, not in prison,” she added.
Tikhanovskaya is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel today in Berlin.
She said that she would ask Merkel about “her potential participation as a mediator” in talks between protest leaders and Lukashenko’s government.
“We will discuss ways to put pressure on Belarus, because Belarusians think that only with pressure can we force the authorities into dialogue with the people,” Tikhanovskaya said in a Skype interview with the Guardian from her office in Vilnius.
“The Belarusian people already consider Lukashenko to be illegitimate,” she said.
“When we say negotiations with the government, we are talking about people lower down; some people should take responsibility and start these negotiations to find a way out of the crisis,” she added.
Lukashenko has ruled out negotiations with the opposition.
Additional reporting by the Guardian and Reuters
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