Rights group: Scores detained at retirees’ rally in Belarus

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A human rights group said that dozens of people were detained in the Belarusian capital on Monday during the traditional weekly rally of retirees against President Alexander Lukashenko, who won his sixth term in office in a disputed election.

Between 100 and 150 people were estimated to have gathered at Independence Square in the central Minsk. They were quickly surrounded by police and security forces. Some of the demonstrators hid in a church nearby, but more than 90 were detained, according to the Viasna rights group.

“Elderly people are being held in unsanitary conditions (in detention), large groups of them are being kept in cells and put at risk of contracting COVID-19,” Valentin Stefanovich, a human rights advocate with Viasna, told The Associated Press.

Mass protests have gripped Belarus since official results from the Aug. 9 presidential election gave Lukashenko a landslide victory over his widely popular opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She and her supporters refused to recognize the result, saying the vote was riddled with fraud, and some poll workers came forward to detail how the election was rigged in their areas.

Authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people. Police have used stun grenades, tear gas and truncheons to disperse the rallies.

Mass detentions continued even as rallies grew smaller in recent weeks. Belarus’ Interior Ministry said Monday that 271 people were arrested during protests Sunday. Viasna put the number at 286.

According to human rights advocates, more than 30,000 people have been detained since the protests began in August, and thousands of them were brutally beaten. Four people are reported to have died as the result of the government’s crackdown on demonstrators and opposition supporters.

However, some of the protesters on Monday appeared undeterred by the crackdown.

“There is no fear. Belarusians are no longer afraid. Repressions show weakness rather than strength of this regime, which only discredits itself day by day,” Nina Bahinskaya, a 73-year-protester who has become famous for her resilience, told the AP by phone.

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