Over 100,000 people marched through Minsk on Sunday on the sixth straight weekend of protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, keeping up the pressure on the veteran Belarusian leader to quit.
Many walked in a vast column that stretched back several kilometres, decked out in red-and-white opposition colours and chanting “go away” as helmeted riot police patrolled the streets with water canons on hand, a witness said.
Several protesters were dragged away from the crowd by security forces. In the city centre, riot police rhythmically beat their shields as a warning while several people threw glass bottles at them.
The eastern European country was plunged into turmoil following a presidential election last month that Lukashenko says he won by a landslide, but the opposition says was rigged.
In power for 26 years, the former Soviet collective farm manager has shown scant inclination to resign, buoyed by support from Russia.
The European Union vowed weeks ago to impose sanctions on Minsk for alleged election fraud and human rights abuses, but is likely to miss its own Monday deadline for action.
Police officers personal data leaked:
Protests, anonymous hackers leaked the personal data of more than 2,000 police officers in retaliation for a crackdown in which thousands of people have been detained, many complaining of beatings and torture in jail.
The government has denied abusing detainees.
The loyalty of the security forces is crucial to Lukashenko’s ability to cling on to power. Their faces are often obscured by masks, balaclavas or riot helmets. Some protesters have torn the masks off some officers.
“As the arrests continue, we will continue to publish data on a massive scale,” said a statement distributed by the opposition news channel Nexta Live on the messaging app Telegram. “No one will remain anonymous even under a balaclava.”
The first batch of 1,000 names was released on Saturday and widely distributed on Telegram channels.
The second batch of more than 1,000 names was released on Sunday evening, targeting officers in the western city of Brest where the hackers said the police had been particularly heavy-handed.
The government said it would find and punish those responsible for leaking the data.