Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Siege Of Minsk, 2006: And On The Seventh Day They Protested And One Leader Was Arrested

MINSK, Belarus, March 25 — "Riot police dispersed a fresh challenge to President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko on Saturday, blocking thousands of antigovernment demonstrators from reaching the central square in the capital and later arresting a top opposition leader.

The leader, Aleksandr V. Kazulin, was seized as he marched with hundreds of supporters on a prison where opposition members are held. Police also shoved and beat many of the protesters while they gathered on the sidewalks in the capital's center. Dozens of people were arrested, the opposition said....

After being blocked from October Square during a tense hour of confrontations with formations of riot police, the crowd dispersed and reassembled at a nearby Yanka Kupala Park, where another opposition leader said they would not cease in their campaign of civil disobedience against Mr. Lukashenko and his autocratic government.

"What is going on in Belarus can be compared to the storm of a fortress," said Aleksandr Milinkevich, the principal challenger to Mr. Lukashenko in an election this month. "This was the first storm. We will use peaceful methods. We will surround that fortress and we will not retreat."

In time, he said, "We will turn that fortress upside down." ...

Later, when demonstrators led by Mr. Kazulin marched on the prison, participants said the police dispersed them using stun grenades. Mr. Kazulin was arrested by a team of special forces officers who rushed him and snatched him from the crowd, witnesses said.

The police also arrested Mr. Milinkevich's spokesman in a separate confrontation. He was later released. The charges against Mr. Kazulin were not immediately clear....

The turnout on Saturday in the face of police violence suggested that the opposition had far more support than Mr. Lukashenko had conceded in his derisive public remarks.

In a move reminiscent of Soviet times, the authorities said protesters were not allowed to walk on October Square because the ice on the skating rink there was being removed for spring. The demonstrators rejected this as another official lie.

They massed on the sidewalks near the square, waved flowers and banned Belarussian flags, and shouted at the police: "Shame! Shame! Shame!" As their numbers grew they began to push, at one point forcing a line of police half a block backward, and almost reaching the square's edge.

But the police reinforced themselves swiftly, and thick lines of officers jogged into place and stopped the advance. The demonstrators also briefly blocked traffic two times at one of Minsk's main intersections, but were forced away within minutes by police charges.

More police reinforcements arrived, and began plunging into the crowd in platoon-sized formations, separating it into smaller groups that were then forced to move away."...

C.J. Chivers "Belarus Police Deter Thousands of Protesters and Arrest an Opposition Leader" New York Times March 25, 2006

Democratic Protesters And Democratic Opposition Winners Alexander Kozulin and Alexander Milinkevich

Photo credit: Agence France Presse and With thanks.


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