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Belarus: Dozens of arrests in Minsk as police use water cannon to break up anti-Lukashenko protests

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Police use a water cannon truck to disperse demonstrators during a rally to protest against the Belarus presidential election results in Minsk on October 11, 2020.
Police use a water cannon truck to disperse demonstrators during a rally to protest against the Belarus presidential election results in Minsk on October 11, 2020.   -   Copyright  STRINGER / AFP
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Riot police detained protesters in Minsk on Sunday as thousands rallied for the ninth consecutive Sunday rally against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The interior ministry said water cannon and stun grenades were used to disperse demonstrators who gathered in the capital to protest against his controversial re-election in August, widely seen as rigged.

Independent media still operating from Belarus shared images of people being detained in brutal fashion, in what has been described as the most violent repression of a demonstration in Minsk for two months.

Rallies also took place in other cities, including Brest, Vitebsk and Grodno.

Dozens of protesters sustained injuries, according to a human rights group. Viasna released a list of protesters detained across the country on its website that by Sunday evening had more than 300 names on it.

“This has been the harshest dispersal of a Sunday march since August,” Viasna leader Ales Bialiatski told The Associated Press. It estimated that around 100,000 people took part in the demonstration in Minsk.

Military and crowd control vehicles were seen entering the Belarusian capital in the morning to prepare for the rally. Videos of the protests show thousands of people marching in columns through the city, waving flags and chanting slogans.

At least 35 journalists were detained during protests on Sunday, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

On Saturday, Lukashenko visited a prison to talk to opposition activists, who have been jailed for challenging his reelection. Commentators said the move was an attempt to imitate a dialogue.

Ales Bialiatski of the Viasna centre said that “instead of a dialogue, Belarusians received another strong-arm dispersal (of a protest) with the beaten and the injured.”

Lukashenko's main election challenger Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, in exile in Lithuania after leaving Belarus in fear for her safety and that of her children, said on Sunday that any dialogue with the authorities should start only after they stop detentions and release political prisoners.

“We are all working together to stop forceful detentions, release political prisoners and set a time and a place for talks. If these demands are not met, then they are trying to deceive us," Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement.

She encouraged Belarusians on Sunday to continue peaceful protests.

Anti-Lukashenko protests have rocked Belarus over the past two months, with the largest rallies in Minsk attracting up to 200,000 people.

During the first days after the election, police used tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Several protesters died, many were injured and nearly 7,000 were detained.

The protests erupted after the August 9 election which handed president Lukashenko a sixth term in office in what critics say was a fraudulent vote.