Belarus police braces for mass riots on Freedom Day

Participants of the rally held by Belarus opposition. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Samokhin)
As the Belarus opposition announced its intention to hold a rally in Minsk, police reported they were fully prepared to thwart any such attempt.

According to media reports, the Belarus opposition has planned on holding traditional celebrations on the so-called Freedom Day – the anniversary of the formation of the Belarus People’s Republic in 1918. However, the authorities banned the initially scheduled march in the center of the country’s capital Minsk and several opposition movements said they refused to hold official marches. Instead they said their supporters would simply lay flowers at the monuments of Belarusian poets.Two movements – the European Belarus and Young Front say they will hold a rally in the central square regardless of the ban. Opposition activists say they have asked all supporters to come to the square in the evening carrying the red and white flag of Belarus and announce their goals as the freeing of political prisoners (dozens of people detained after the riots on the day of presidential elections in December) and free elections.

The police replied with a statement that any unsanctioned action will be dissolved. The country’s Interior Minister Anatoliy Kuleshov said in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax that his agency intended to disperse any rally outside the Park of People’s Friendship – Minsk authorities have allowed celebrations there. At the same time, the minister assured that the police will act within the law and will even protect the participants of the sanctioned actions.

Kuleshov added that the police were not planning to detain anyone for laying flowers at poet monuments.

Despite this promise, police detained Andrey Dmitriyev, the activist of the “Tell the Truth” political movement who was holding his own political demonstration near the central post office. Dmitriyev was sending post cards to his comrades in detention and also presented flowers to several women who had gathered in the square with him, the wives of the political prisoners. Plain-clothed agents put the activist in a car and drove away soon after the start of the protest. Dmitriyev is one of the suspected organizers of the December 19 unrest in Minsk. He was released from a pre-trial detention center in early January, but is still on trial and under a travel ban.

Another participant of the December protest was officially charged on Friday with organizing mass riots. Former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He remained in custody since his detention on December 19 and he was only allowed to contact his lawyer last week. According to other opposition activists, Sannikov was brutally beaten during his detention and both of his legs are broken.