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Belarus protesters take to the streets with new tactic

·2-min read

Opposition protesters in Belarus took to the streets of the capital Minsk on Sunday in the latest of three months of demonstrations against the re-election of strongman president Alexander Lukashenko.

Since an August election, Belarus has been gripped by massive protests that erupted after Lukashenko, 66, secured a sixth term as president of the ex-Soviet republic.

The opposition believes the election was rigged and political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya -- who ran against Lukashenko in the place of her jailed husband -- was the true winner of the polls.

In recent weeks, authorities imposed an intense crackdown in which hundreds were detained and protesters were prevented from gathering in central Minsk.

That prompted Lukashenko's opponents to change tactic, calling on supporters to create small gatherings in every district of the capital.

Dmitry Golubev, a 20-year-old student, told AFP that he was rallying for "fair elections, Lukashenko's resignation and the release of political prisoners".

"We are not evil people, not foreign agents..., we are citizens of Belarus, who want peace, calm and respect for human rights in their country," Golubev said, holding a red and white flag -- a symbol of the Belarus opposition.

According to local media, around 20 rallies were recorded on Sunday across the city.

"Large columns of people have assembled in all districts of Minsk, without exception. The Lukashenko police are desperately rushing from district to district," said opposition Telegram channel Nexta Live that has helped coordinate the ongoing demonstrations.

As in previous weeks, several metro stations in the city centre were shut and mobile connection was limited.

Riot police were deployed in large numbers, with the Tut.by news website reporting the use of stun grenades and tear gas.

Minsk police said on Sunday that around 250 people were taken into police custody during the protests in the capital.

"Everyone takes to the streets in their district and sees dozens, hundreds and thousands of supporters," Tikhanovskaya, 38, said in a video address posted on her Telegram channel on Saturday.

She added that Belarusians are a "proud, brave and peaceful people that have learned the price of freedom and will never agree to live without it".

Tikhanovskaya fled to EU member Lithuania shortly after the August vote and has received support from several Western leaders, who refuse to recognise the election results.

The European Union has slapped sanctions on Lukashenko and a number of his allies over election rigging and a violent crackdown on demonstrators.

Belarus police detained thousands of protesters in the first days of the demonstrations, with many reporting torture and abuse in custody.

Lukashenko, who has the firm backing of Moscow, has refused to step down and instead has suggested reforms to the constitution to placate the opposition.

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