Belarus election: Women form ‘solidarity chains’ to condemn crackdown

Women have formed human chains in Belarus to condemn a crackdown on protests over the disputed election.

Many dressed in white and carried flowers as they called for an end to police brutality, in demonstrations that began on Wednesday.

Unrest erupted after long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko was declared winner of Sunday’s vote, sparking allegations of vote rigging.

Thousands of people have been arrested and at least two have died.

In the latest official figures, the interior ministry said police had detained 700 people during protests on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 6,700.

As a fifth day of protests got under way on Thursday, hundreds of women formed “solidarity chains” in the capital Minsk. Participants told reporters they wanted a peaceful resolution, as they called for all detained protesters to be freed.

It was the second day in a row they had organised such action. Similar scenes were also reported elsewhere in the country.

Video footage shared on social media showed opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova joining the female protesters in Minsk on Thursday, holding a bunch of flowers.

She was one of three women who pooled their resources to spearhead the opposition. The other two have left the country.

Veronika Tsepkalo fled Belarus on the day of the vote while the main opposition candidate in the election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was briefly detained on Monday before fleeing to Lithuania.

An associate said Ms Tikhanovskaya was escorted from the country by the authorities as part of a deal to allow the release of her campaign manager, who was arrested on the eve of the election.

Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, released a video saying she made the “very difficult decision” to leave because of her children.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: “Not one life is worth what is happening now”

The opposition candidate was a stay-at-home mother until she entered the race after her husband was arrested and blocked from registering for the vote.

She became Mr Lukashenko’s toughest opposition challenge in years, leading large opposition rallies in the lead up to the vote.

But Mr Lukashenko dismissed her bid, saying a woman could not lead Belarus.

“Our constitution is not for women,” he said earlier this year. “Our society has not matured enough to vote for a woman. This is because by constitution the president handles a lot of power.”

Mr Lukashenko, 65, has ruled the former Soviet country since 1994. He has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from abroad.

What else has been happening?

Protests have broken out across Belarus since Sunday’s disputed presidential election.

Election officials said Mr Lukashenko won 80% of the vote, but there were widespread allegations of vote rigging. The result was condemned by the European Union as “neither free nor fair”.

Hundreds of people have been injured in a police crackdown on protests, some seriously. A BBC crew was attacked by police on Tuesday evening.

Officials have confirmed the deaths of two people.

One demonstrator died during a protest in the capital Minsk on Monday. The Belarusian interior ministry alleged an explosive device had gone off in his hand.

Also a 25-year-old man died in the south-eastern city of Gomel on Wednesday. The Belarusian Investigative Committee said he was arrested and sentenced to 10 days in prison for taking part in an illegal protest, but died after being taken to hospital because he was feeling unwell.

The protester’s mother told Radio Free Europe that her son had not taken part in any protests and was arrested as he was going to see his girlfriend. She said he had heart problems and was kept for hours in a police van.

The United Nations has condemned the use of violence by authorities.

Video footage shared on social media has shown ex-special forces officers throwing their uniforms into bins in disgust at the actions of their former colleagues.

“I was proud of the unit I served [in]. Now I am ashamed. Shame on everyone who follows such orders,” one former officer said.

‘People here are angry’

By Tatsiana Melnichuk, BBC Russian, Minsk

The protests are unprecedented in their scale as people in dozens of cities, towns and even villages rise up and call for the main opposition figure, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, to be recognised as the winner of Sunday’s presidential election.

I watched as young men and women ran for safety past my windows, taking a break from the clashes and then returning to face the police.

My women neighbours are trying to stop their sons and husbands from joining the nightly protests, worried for their safety.

Some 7,000 people have been detained and you don’t have to be protesting to be arrested. My friend’s son, a university lecturer, was detained randomly before the elections and spent three days in a cell.

The interior ministry insists its measures are “adequate” and points out that more than 100 police have been injured and 28 treated in hospital. There have been deliberate attempts by drivers to run over traffic police and “law enforcers have used weapons” to stop them, it says.

People here are angry: with police, authorities and above all President Alexander Lukashenko. No-one I have spoken to has any support for what police are doing.

Belarus elections: Shocked by violence, people lose their fear

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