Belarus protesters battered, bruised but defiant after 100 days
Published on Feb 19, 2021
Opposition protesters remain defiant in Belarus despite police brutality, 100 days after they first took to the streets to denounce the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Police in helmets and body armour throw women holding flowers and balloons into police vans. Officers tear-gas elderly people on a pensioners' march. Men in balaclavas chase musicians for singing songs from popular cartoons in courtyards.
Yet every Sunday thousands still pour into the streets of the capital Minsk, condemning what they see as Mr Lukashenko's fraudulent 9 August victory.
Western governments have also condemned the widely reported election abuses and Mr Lukashenko's violent crackdown.
Alesya, a 31-year old worker in the IT industry, regularly attends the Sunday rallies. On 15 November, however, things turned nasty very quickly.
When she arrived at the square where the march was supposed to start, it was already packed with security forces. As more people gathered, officers fired stun grenades and started hitting people with batons to disperse the crowd.
"They attacked us again and again. It was awful. They ferociously beat people, twisted their arms and took them away," she said.
She ran away into courtyards following other protesters, but police in their minivans quickly caught up with them even there. She was saved by a stranger who hid her and several others in his house.
"It felt like World War Two, when people tried to hide Jews from the Nazis. It was terrifying, we were shocked."
The march was called in memory of Roman Bondarenko, an activist who was beaten in detention and died in hospital last week. He was arrested by men in plain clothes without insignia. Such groups are often seen working with police when they disperse and detain protesters.
After the election, unprecedented demonstrations took place in Minsk and other cities in Belarus - in the capital alone more than 100,000 thronged the streets.
They demanded an end to police violence, the release of all political prisoners and new elections held transparently and fairly.
Initially this people's tsunami made the police disappear from the streets. But they returned a few weeks later, to spread terror again.
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