Around 400 people took part in a banned protest in the Belarusian capital Minsk on May 1 calling for the government to step down and for free elections to be held.
Before the protest began, prominent opposition figure Nikolai Statkevich was taken into custody, AP reported. His wife, Maria Adamovich, said police told her he would be jailed for five days. Other activists also were arrested to prevent them from participating, the rights organisation Vesna said.
Demonstrators lit flares and carried the banned white, red and white-striped flag representing a free Belarus. The former Soviet republic has been led since 1994 by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has previously jailed opponents, including Statkevich.
Statkevich ran against Lukashenko in the 2010 presidential election and spent five years in prison after his arrest after a demonstration protesting the results of the polls.
Another ex-presidential candidate, Vladimir Neklyaev, said during the May 1 protest that “only free and fair elections can change the situation in the last dictatorship in Europe”, according to AP.
Weeks before, Belarusian riot police arrested hundreds of peaceful anti-government protesters who took part in rallies in Minsk and other cities on the March 25 Freedom Day marked by the opposition.
Prior to those arrests, Lukashenko blamed “Western funds, intelligence services” for attempting to distabilise the situation in Belarus through anti-government protests.
The crackdown this year deals a major blow to a cautious process of rapprochement between the republic’s leadership and the West, particularly the EU, which a year ago removed most of its economic sanctions against Belarus.
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