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Protests again shake Belarus on Sunday as security forces launch sweeping crackdown, using flash grenades & tear gas (VIDEOS)

Protests again shake Belarus on Sunday as security forces launch sweeping crackdown, using flash grenades & tear gas (VIDEOS)
Tens of thousands of people again took to the streets of cities across Belarus on Sunday, as post election protests continue. This weekend saw heightened tensions following the alleged killing of an opposition activist by police.

Demonstrators in the capital Minsk clashed with OMON, the country's specialist riot squad, and members of the military who were deployed by authorities in an attempt to stymie the rallies, footage from the scene showed. Security forces used flash grenades to disperse crowds, according to local media. Plumes of tear gas rose into the sky as columns of marchers headed for the center of the city. 

At least 500 people were reportedly detained across Belarus on Sunday, according to observers from Viasna, which is funded by a London-based Belarusian businessman though not registered with authorities in Minsk. While the majority were arrested in the capital, others were reportedly picked up by officers in Brest and Molodechno, as well as Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno and other regions.

The Poland-based NEXTA-Live Telegram news channel, which the Belarusian government has designated an extremist organization, also claimed that armed men "shot" at civilians as they gathered at the so-called 'Square of Changes' in Minsk. The boulevard has become a flashpoint for protests in recent months, and dozens of masked troops were deployed to clear it of demonstrators on Sunday.

Disturbing footage has also emerged of heavily armored officers tending to an unresponsive casualty laying on a street in the capital.

Images later emerged of crowds of riot officers, some armed, accompanied by units of the regular army, confronting protesters on the square.

Subsequent videos showed people running away from police lines as flash grenades went off around them.

Claims then began to surface on social media that security forces had cleared the area of demonstrators in only around ten minutes.

Elsewhere in the country, groups gathered and chanted slogans criticizing long-time Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has governed the country since 1994. In the city of Molodechno, north of Minsk, activists draped in red and white protest flags laid flowers in honor of the "heroes" who have died since unrest began in August.

Videos posted on Telegram from local news outlets showed long lines of people marching in Brest, in the southwest of the country.

Tensions in the former Soviet republic escalated this week after the death of 31-year old Roman Bondarenko, who was allegedly beaten into a coma by officers who came to remove a protest flag from the courtyard of the building where he lived.

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The country has been paralyzed by protests since Lukashenko claimed victory in disputed presidential elections in August. Officially, he received around 80 percent of the vote, which activists and many international organizations argue was rigged in his favor. His most high-profile competitor, 38-year old former English teacher Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to Lithuania in the aftermath.

On Sunday, she took to Twitter to accuse the president of sanctioning the use of "gas, grenades and firearms against the protesters," as part of a "devastating" crackdown.

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