MOSCOW (Reuters) – Security forces in Belarus detained dozens of protesters on Sunday and used force, including water cannon and batons, to break up crowds demanding a new presidential election, TV footage showed.
Footage published by local news outlets showed police officers wearing black balaclavas dragging protesters into unmarked black vans and beating protesters with their batons at a rally that drew thousands onto the streets of the capital Minsk.
Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, has been rocked by street protests and strikes since authorities announced that veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko had won an Aug. 9 vote by a landslide.
Security forces have detained more than 13,000 people during a post-election crackdown, some of whom have been later freed.
Slideshow ( 5 images )
Lukashenko’s key political opponents are either in jail or have fled abroad.
Sunday’s violence followed a meeting Lukashenko held on Saturday in a Minsk jail with detained opposition leaders, an unusual event that prompted some opposition activists to believe he was preparing to make concessions.
In a rare concession, two people who had taken part in the meeting with Lukashenko — businessman Yuri Voskresensky and Dmitry Rabtsevich, director of the Minsk office of PandaDoc software maker — were released late on Sunday, Belarus state television reported.
The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions against a string of senior officials in Belarus accused of fraud and human rights abuses in the wake of the presidential election.
“We will continue to march peacefully and persistently and demand what is ours: new free and transparent elections,” Tsikhanouskaya wrote on her Telegram channel on Sunday.
Similar rallies were held in other cities across the country on Sunday.
Watch video below: