Minsk: A Belarusian woman carries a poster that reads “My brother is not a criminal” during a rally in solidarity with protesters injured in demonstrations  against the results of the country’s presidential election.—AP
Minsk: A Belarusian woman carries a poster that reads “My brother is not a criminal” during a rally in solidarity with protesters injured in demonstrations against the results of the country’s presidential election.—AP

MINSK: Thousands of protesters formed human chains and marched in Belarus on Thursday in a growing wave of peaceful demonstrations over President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election and an ensuing brutal police crackdown.

Russia claimed the protests were being orchestrated from abroad to destabilise its ex-Soviet neighbour while European countries condemned police violence and backed fresh sanctions against Lukashenko.

Men and women, many wearing white and holding flowers, took to the streets of the capital Minsk to protest against police brutality during four nights of unrest since Sunday’s vote. Lukashenko’s opponents accuse him of rigging the election to defeat his main rival, popular opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has left the ex-Soviet country for neighbouring Lithuania.

Protesters took to the streets across the country to contest the vote results but police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and, in at least one case, live fire to disperse protesters.

At least two people have died and hundreds have been wounded in the violence while nearly 7,000 have been arrested. On Thursday, some demonstrators held placards reading “Change!” and “No violence” and sported white bracelets that have become a symbol of the opposition movement.

“We are against violence, against explosions on our streets, we are in favour of freeing all the detained,” Nastya, a 26-year-old protester, said.

“We support honest elections, and an honest recount, it’s necessary for votes to be recounted honestly.” Maria, a 35-year-old sales assistant, said she came out in her lunch break.

“We want people to be able to protest peacefully, after all they didn’t want anything bad, just a fair count of the votes.” A religious procession of various Christian denominations also took place in Minsk while workers at a number of factories across the country reportedly downed tools.

Several dozen performers from the Belarusian State Philharmonic staged a rally in Minsk, singing and holding up letters of the alphabet reading: “They stole our voices.” Similar spontaneous rallies were reported in other cities.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2020