Belarus opposition leader decries mass protest arrests

Minsk (AFP) –


Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Monday denounced a crackdown on peaceful demonstrators after more than one thousand people were detained at a rally against strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

For three months, tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Belarus on Sundays to protest against the disputed re-election of Lukashenko, who has been in power for more than two decades.

The Viasna rights group said that police detained 1,048 people at demonstrations on Sunday against the 66-year-old authoritarian leader, who claimed a sixth term in August's disputed election.

It was the largest number of protesters that police have swept up since a brutal post-vote crackdown by security services saw nearly 7,000 detained over several days and sparked widespread claims of torture and abuse in detention centres.

"More than a thousand people detained, hundreds of people beaten with feet or batons. Is this how you represent power?" Tikhanovskaya said in a video on the Telegram messaging app on Monday.

Tikhanovskaya, 38, says she was the true winner of the poll and has gained the support of Western leaders, who have refused to recognise the election results.

The European Union has slapped sanctions on Lukashenko, 66, and his allies, imposing a travel ban and asset freezes over vote-rigging and police violence.

Tikhanovskaya thanked Belarusians for taking to the streets on Sunday and said members of law enforcement participating in crackdowns on peaceful protesters "are not worthy of being called Belarusians."

After months of demonstrations against Lukashenko, she also acknowledged that the protest movement seeking new elections and the peaceful transition of power "turns out to be a marathon."

"Together we will achieve everything, even on this difficult road leading to a free country," she said.