Police in Belarus on Wednesday beat up and arrested dozens of anti-government protesters during a banned rally in the capital of the authoritarian former Soviet nation calling for the ouster of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Dozens of plainclothes police reportedly rounded up the protesters during the rally, kicking and punching them before bundling them into unmarked vans. An AP photographer was punched several times by police on his forearms, apparently in an attempt to stop him from taking pictures.
It was the sixth rally in a series called “Revolution by Social Networks,” a grass-roots movement that claims thousands of supporters nationwide.
The government has banned the rallies, which feature novel forms of non-vocal protest, and used brutal force and tear gas in eliminating resistance.
Hundreds of demonstrators set the alarms on their mobile phones to go off at 8pm in a gesture calling for fellow Belarusians to wake up and resist Lukashenko’s government.
Most of the protests thus far have featured handclapping.
Public discontent is swelling as Belarus experiences its worst financial crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. The country recently devalued the national currency, causing panic buying of goods and huge lines at currency exchange offices.
Much blame is directed at Lukashenko, referred to by the U.S. as Europe’s last dictator, for increasingly public sector salaries in pre-election populism last year when the country could ill-afford it.
Belarus is under pressure from Russia and the West. Moscow has been pushing for greater control over the Belarusian economy in exchange for loans to help Lukashenko’s government weather the financial turmoil, while the European Union has threatened to expand sanctions imposed on Lukashenko as punishment for his crackdown on the opposition.
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