Hundreds Detained Despite New Tack By Anti-Government Protesters In Belarus

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

MINSK -- Rights groups in Belarus say at least 350 protesters were detained in the capital and other cities on November 22 in the latest demonstrations challenging Alyaksandr Lukashenka's grip on power.

The detentions in Minsk came despite organizers' efforts to decentralize their gatherings on the 106th day of protests, suggesting neither Lukashenka nor his opponents were prepared to give ground following record numbers of arrests each of the two previous Sundays.

Protesters gathered in several places around Minsk, chanting, "Long live Belarus!" and carrying signs and the historic red-and-white Belarusian flag.

Protest organizers had asked people to gather in different spots around the capital before forming bigger groups -- a bid to thwart crowd-control efforts by police.

Outside one subway station in central Minsk, demonstrators were met with flash-bang grenades. Masked and balaclava-wearing officers ripped flags from some people's hands in another location.

Convoys of military vehicles were spotted in several parts of the city as well.

The Vyasna human rights group counted more than 350 detainees around the country, most of them in the capital but also in other cities.

A widely followed volunteers group also reported at least four people had been taken away from Minsk police stations in ambulances.

Anti-government marches also took place on November 22 in Hrodna, Bobruisk, Volkovysk, Smolevichi, Homel, Brest, Pinsk, Novopolotsk, and other cities.

Belarus has been gripped by unprecedented protests for more than three months, after Lukashenka claimed reelection for a sixth term.

Opposition groups, who say the election was rigged, have staged regular demonstrations, defying an often brutal crackdown by law enforcement authorities.

There were more than 1,000 arrests of protesters each of the previous two Sundays before the November 22 events.

Protesters have demanded that Lukashenka turn over power to Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an opposition leader and political novice who they say won the election.

The crackdown in response has included many thousands of detentions, several killings of protesters, the punishment and expulsions of reporters, and the imprisonment and forced exiling of opposition leaders.

European Union foreign ministers agreed on November 19 to expand sanctions on Belarus to include businesses in response to the “brutality of authorities” against weeks of pro-democracy protests.

Noting that previous sanctions on Lukashenka and dozens of senior officials had failed to halt repression, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the new set of sanctions “should go not only to the individuals, but also to institutions and entrepreneurs, and firms.”

Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey responded by saying on November 22 that Minsk would also impose its own sanctions on European officials.

"If they hurt us, if they impose sanction on us, naturally, we will have to respond adequately," Makey told Belarusian state television. "You know that the European Union has imposed extra sanctions on some 15 people. We will also expand our sanction lists and will include senior officials from the European Union and from a number of European states."

Earlier this month, the intensity of the protests had appeared to be waning. But following the death of a 31-year-old protester who was severely beaten by police, the demonstrations drew new support.

On November 20, thousands attended a memorial service for the man, Raman Banderenka, with many chanting, "You are a hero!" and "Long live Belarus!"