Several dozen arrested at unauthorized opposition protest in Minsk (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
About 500 people attempted to reach the gathering point – the Belarus Academy of Sciences – but were blocked by police, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
They then gathered in a column and tried to pass along Independence Avenue, chanting “Long Live Belarus” and “Shame!” but were soon blocked again by police armed with shields, as photos posted on Twitter show. Police set up several cordons along Independence Avenue, encircling the crowd, Interfax West reported.
According to the news agency, the protesters were asked to disperse, but many refused to leave and police started making arrests.
Interfax West, citing its sources, reports that at least a hundred people have been detained.
Shortly before the start of the rally, police reportedly also detained employees of an unregistered human rights center called ‘Viasna’ (Spring) in their office. According to the center, about 57 of its staff were detained and taken to the Pervomaisky police department. One of the detainees told Interfax West that they had not been charged yet.
RIA Novosti reports several journalists from Belarusian and foreign media were also taken into custody.
According to witness accounts, those arrested at the march were led to police wagons for identity checks, which then took them to the police station. No major disturbances have been reported, though a woman wrapped in a red and white flag (the old flag of Belarus), refused to go voluntarily and was carried to the police wagon – pictures posted on Twitter by witnesses showed.
Among the detainees were people of different ages, but mostly young people who said they are unhappy with the economic situation in the country. Among the slogans that were heard during the march were “Off with the government!” “Wages to the people, shovels to the government,” and “Go away!”
Some people also appeared displeased with the decree on “vagabonds” signed by President Alexander Lukashenko in April 2015, according to which able-bodied citizens of the republic who do not work and do not pay taxes for more than half a year are to pay an annual fine equivalent to $200.
A handful of people who made it to the Academy of Sciences were also detained, TASS reports.
Беларусь, Минск. 25 марта 2017. pic.twitter.com/9iT5Xm1cR2— Maxim Pushkin (@mc_maxim) March 25, 2017
Police cordons have now been removed, according to TASS. Twitter pictures posted in the early hours of Saturday showed that Minsk city center had been blocked long before people started arriving for the rally.
The Belarusian opposition annually marks March 25 as ‘Freedom Day,’ which coincides with the anniversary of the founding of the Belarusian People's Republic (BNR) – declared on the night of March 25, 1918 under German occupation.
In 1919, the country became part of the Soviet Republic, and the government of the BNR was forced into exile. Some representatives of the Belarusian opposition believe that March 25 is the true Independence Day for Belarus. Rallies dedicated to the anniversary were held today in a number of cities across the country.