Belarus says protests 'smaller' after third night of crackdown

Minsk (AFP) –


Authorities in Belarus said Wednesday that post-election protests were getting smaller, after police violently put down a third night of demonstrations.

Protesters gathered in Minsk and other cities on Tuesday night to contest strongman President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed victory in Sunday's election, after main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left the country for Lithuania.

With significant parts of central Minsk blocked off by riot police, they were unable to gather in large crowds as on previous nights and smaller protests erupted in various parts of the city.

"The number of protesters was smaller last night, as was the number of cities where protests took place," interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told AFP.

The ministry said more than 1,000 people had been detained after protests Tuesday night.

Protesters and witnesses said riot police used indiscriminate force against those who did gather, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets in Minsk suburbs.

There were reports of several journalists being confronted, with police pulling out memory cards from photographers' cameras and breaking their lenses.

Videos released on social media showed police in Minsk kicking protesters lying prone on the ground, smashing cars with truncheons and assaulting passers-by.

Yan, a 28-year-old paramedic from Minsk who has protested every night since the election, said police had begun to act more violently.

"Things were scary last night, it was complete lawlessness," he told AFP. "All of this is aimed at intimidating people so that they keep quiet."

Oleg Gulak, the head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee rights group, said he was "stunned by the unprecedented level of cruelty and violence" used against protesters.

"Last night was the scariest night in Belarus's modern history," he said.

Dozens of people have been wounded in the crackdown and police said that one protester died when an explosive device went off in his hand on Monday night.

The protests broke out after authorities said Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80 percent of the vote in Sunday's polls.

Election officials said Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who ran after other potential opposition candidates including her husband were jailed, came second with 10 percent.

Tikhanovskaya claimed victory, demanding that Lukashenko hand over power, but left Belarus on Tuesday for neighbouring Lithuania, with supporters saying she came under pressure from authorities.