Hundreds of people hit the streets in Belarus’ capital on Thursday morning in a show of solidarity with protests, after the authorities reportedly arrested hundreds more over the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Belarusian interior ministry said another 700 people had been detained the previous day, when protesters again rallied in Minsk and other cities against the 26-year rule of the country’s authoritarian leader.
The latest detentions bring the total number of detentions since Sunday to at least 6,700.
There are fears for the wellbeing of those held in custody, amid reports of abuses including beatings. Authorities on Wednesday night confirmed that a second protester had died amid the unrest since Sunday’s vote.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has condemned the violence against demonstrators. On Wednesday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Belarusian authorities to release immediately all those unlawfully detained and investigate rights abuses.
EU foreign policy leader have suggested imposition of sanctions.
On Thursday, women formed long “lines of solidarity” carrying flowers and portraits of their loved ones detained during protests gathered in the southwestern part of the city, where police had shot rubber bullets at people chanting and clapping on balconies the night before.
The official tally of thousands of detainees appears to be downplayed amid the widespread crackdown.
Police have dispersed protesters with tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets and severely beat them with truncheons.
Black-uniformed officers chased protesters into residential buildings and deliberately targeted journalists, beating many and breaking their cameras.
In several parts of Minsk on Wednesday night, groups of hundreds of people formed human chains.
Elsewhere, motorists blared horns in support and, in some areas, slowed to a crawl to block police vehicles. On one avenue, people stood on balconies, clapping in an expression of support. Riot police fired rubber bullets at them.
Similar protests were held in at least five other cities, according to the Viasna human rights group.
President Alexander Lukashenko has blamed criminals and unemployment for the mass protests that have swept the country, urging those taking part to “get a job”.
“The core of these so-called protesters are people with a criminal past and (those who are) currently unemployed,” Lukashenko said at a government meeting on Wednesday. “Those who don’t have a job, walk in the streets and avenues. That’s why I’m kindly urging everyone who is unemployed to get a job.”
The 65-year-old has led the former Soviet state of 9.5 million people since 1994, relentlessly stifling dissent and winning the nickname “Europe’s last dictator” in the West.
Belarus’ leading opposition candidate in the election said on Tuesday she had fled her country for Lithuania for her own wellbeing and for that of her children in the wake of the elections.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she made the decision “absolutely independently” to leave adding the current situation in Belarus was “not worth any life,” referencing the violent protests.
In a video released on Tuesday, she urged her supporters to respect the law and to avoid clashes with police.