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Demonstrations held against Belarusian President Lukashenko amid outrage over plane diversion

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Demonstrations held against Belarusian President Lukashenko amid outrage over plane diversion
Copyright  Czarek Sokolowski/The Associated Press
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Protests erupted in several European cities on Saturday against an intensified crackdown on political opposition by the authoritarian state of Belarus.

Demonstrators gathered in Warsaw, Poland to call for tougher sanctions on Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and his regime.

Among those present was Natalia Protasevich, the mother of Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, who was arrested together with his partner Sofia Sapega last Sunday after the passenger flight they were on was diverted by Belarus to Minsk.

"For freedom of speech, my son and Sofia and others are in prison," Natalia Protasevich said. "I want Lukashenka to think this over. I am not ashamed to ask all EU countries, to ask America, to help us."

About 100 people also gathered in the Ukrainian city of Kyiv, with some of the participants beating a portrait of Lukashenko with slippers and one protester carrying a poster comparing the Belarusian premier to Adolf Hitler.

Belarusians living in Kyiv said they could protest more freely there. One demonstrator, Egor, told Euronews: "We don't have an opportunity to have such protests at home.

"So, people decided to get the attention of other countries, to say that we are all living on one planet, in the same Europe."

Russian premier dismisses 'outburst of emotion'

Russia's President Vladimir Putin met with Lukashenko on Saturday for talks on closer ties between the two countries, with Putin describing the West's reaction to the plane interception as "an outburst of emotion".

Belarus claims the diversion was prompted by a bomb threat, but European leaders have denounced it as akin to air piracy.

Massive pro-democracy protests swept through Belarus last summer after the official results of the 2020 presidential election gave Lukashenko 80 percent of the vote, providing him with a sixth term in office.

More than 30,000 people were arrested during the ensuing uprising, while the opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya sought refuge in Lithuania.

On Saturday several dozen people in the Belarusian capital of Minsk also marched down a main street carrying opposition banners on the anniversary of Tsikhanouskaya's husband's arrest.

Belarusian broadcaster suspended by European consortium

The executive board of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has voted to suspend Belarus's national broadcaster over "serious and quite exceptional concerns".

In a statement issued on Friday, the alliance of public-service media said it had been "closely monitoring the suppression of media freedom in Belarus" by Belteleradio (BTRC).

The Belarusian state broadcaster has two weeks to respond before the suspension takes effect. The EBU cited "particular alarm" at the recent "broadcast of interviews apparently obtained under duress": a likely reference to the broadcast this week of two separate videos showing a detained Pratasevich, and Sapega.