Tens of thousands of people marched through Minsk on Sunday calling on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to step down in mass demonstrations that showed no sign of abating nearly a month after an election his opponents say was rigged.
Columns of protesters defied a government warning not to march, waving red-and-white opposition flags and shouting “go away” and “you’re a rat”.
Protests also took place in major cities throughout Belarus, said interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova. Crowd sizes for those protests were not immediately reported, but Ales Bialiatski, head of the Viasna human rights organisation, said the demonstration in Minsk attracted more than 100,000 people.
The interior ministry said at least 100 people were arrested. Russia’s Interfax news agency reported several people were injured when police broke up a protest outside a state-run tractor factory.
Video footage shown by local media outlet TUT.BY showed women shouting “shame” at masked members of the security forces who dragged people away into detention. Troops, water cannon, armoured personnel carriers were deployed to the city centre ahead of the march.
“This sea of people cannot be stopped by military equipment, water cannons, propaganda and arrests. Most Belarusians want a peaceful change of power and we will not get tired of demanding this,” said Maria Kolesnikova, a leader of the Coordination Council set up by the opposition to try to arrange a dialogue with the 66-year-old Lukashenko about a transition of power.
Daragh McDowell, principal analyst at the global consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, said economic factors are playing a signifcant role in the demonstrations with the country “rapidly running out of money”.
“The IT sector has been repeatedly undermined with the internet shutdowns to disrupt the protesters. We’ve also seen a lot of strikes in the state-owned sector as well. So the Belarussian economy is really on the brink,” McDowell told Al Jazeera.
“The people have lost their fear of Lukashenko, he’s lost a lot of his authority. No matter how many riot police he’s deployed to the streets, it just hasn’t stopped people from continuing to come out.”