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Flower and balloon-wielding protesters in Minsk fear that violence will break out again

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Protesters are taking to the streets with balloons and flowers in Minsk
Protesters are taking to the streets with balloons and flowers in Minsk   -   Copyright  AP
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Protesters offering police flowers and balloons have filled the streets of Minsk amid widespread protests over the disputed reelection of Belarus' authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

These peaceful protesters are holding up photos of wounded demonstrators and wielding flowers and balloons to show their support for the opposition.

Protests broke out in Belarus following the disputed presidential election last Sunday after authorities claimed Lukashenko received more than 80 per cent of the vote.

The leading opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has since fled the country after refusing to accept the result in an election experts say was rigged.

More than 6,000 people have been detained since the election, and several people are still reported missing after opposition supporters took to the streets to demand a fair election.

Now, people are continuing to march peacefully. But although the police has been less visible than before in Minsk, large caravans of military and riot police still drive through the city.

Many protesters fear that authorities will continue to react violently.

"I think that the authorities are worried that we know the truth about what happened on the streets and in the prisons, That this is the reason that they are not on the streets arresting people right now," says 27-year-old Stephanie, who works at an IT company and does not want her last name revealed.

"But I fear that the government will start with the violence again soon but do it at night and against small groups of peaceful protestors. It will be terrible.”

Earlier Saturday, thousands visited the spot where protestor Alexander Taraikovsky died on August 10th. Belarus’ interior minister claims the protester died after he held an explosive in his hands but his partner said she thinks he was shot by police.

After honouring Taraikovsky, people walked the streets in smaller groups, often lead by woman with flowers and posters such as Stephanie.

She held a photo of protestors with significant injuries which she believes came after beatings by the riot police. Human rights groups have said there is increasing evidence of torture during detentions.

Sergei Grits/AP Photo
Protesters offering police flowers and balloons in Minsk, Belarus. August 14, 2020Sergei Grits/AP Photo

'He is such a liar'

Zoya, a 39-year-old English teacher who only gave her first name due to her fear of the government, is demonstrating with a poster that shows a victim of police violence.

"The police also arrested people who were just going on the street,” she said. “I talked to two men who did not go to any protests but were arrested anyway for going to buy beer and were tortured in prison. It is terrible. We have so many brave men, but they are treated so badly.”

Many of the women standing along the streets of Minsk with flowers know people who have been victims of police violence.

Lukashenko, who has been in power in Belarus since 1994, has claimed that the protesters are either criminals or unemployed.

Stephanie says she is tired of Lukashenko’s lies and says that it is untrue that demonstrators are unemployed. Stephanie said that it is nonsense that they are sponsored by foreign countries, as Lukashenko claims, explaining that her monthly salary is around $1,500 (€1266), much higher than the country’s average of about $500 (€422).

"He is such a liar. He is a liar with blood on his hands," says Stephanie, "I want him to go away or die. I think that all Belarusians understand that he will always lie. We used to be afraid to do anything, but that is gone. People know the truth, and they want something different."

"People used to believe Lukashenko when he said that without me, there would be war. A lot of people did not want a war, but now he brought it to our streets himself – against peaceful people," she says, "Our people do not want to be caught or tortured. We have had enough."

Several of the protestors in Minsk on Saturday had photographs of demonstrators who have been hospitalised with bruises and blood on their faces.

Many are demanding new elections.

Tikhanovskaya has also announced the creation of a Coordination Council to oversee the transition of power in Belarus. The opposition candidate only decided to run for the presidency after her husband, a former presidential candidate, was detained.

"The fact is that Tikhanovskaya wants the election," says Stephanie while carrying a poster around the centre of Minsk. "And we want her back."