A Chernobyl memorial ceremony in Belarus has taken on political overtones despite a heavy police presence. Thousands of mainly young protestors filed through the streets of Minsk. Many had earlier tried to gather in the city’s main October Square, but were stopped by the authorities. Liberal opposition leader, Alexander Milinkevich, had been warned by the authorities to stay away from the event.
But he turned up and urged the demonstrators to take action: “We know how to do this,” he said, “there is no need to wait for five years for us, we will eliminate the regime and will oust Lukashenko from power. This is our goal. We will overcome!” The crowd responded with cries of “Long live Belarus!” Downwind from Chernobyl, Belarus was badly affected by the disaster, with two thirds of its surface area contaminated. President Alexander Lukashenko is hugely popular with certain sectors of the population. However, his landslide victory in last month’s election was denounced by independent observers, western governments and his political opposition.