Belarus arrests 400 in new anti-Lukashenko protest
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday ridiculed his opponents as a "scabby mob" following the arrest of about 400 people in the latest country-wide rallies against his regime.
The protests went ahead on Wednesday evening in several cities in response to a call by Internet group "Revolution through the Social Network", the sixth such rally in a month.
At least 180 people were arrested in Minsk and 220 in other regional centres, the Vyasna rights group said in a statement. As in previous demonstrations, protesters did not chant slogans or brandish banners but merely stood in silence, clapping their hands.
"All this scabby mob, which is not that large, simply loiters in the squares, either mumbling, stomping or yelling," Lukashenko said while on a trip to a newspaper plant in the provincial town of Shklov, the official Belta news agency reported.
In typically rambling yet venomous style, Lukashenko proceeded to call the opposition "enemies of the people" and offered to ship its members to Europe in a train carriage.
"If (Europe wants them) faster, we'll give a plane, take them away," the Belarussian president said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle slammed the latest detentions, saying "the unrestrained brutality with which security forces respond to peaceful rallies is absolutely unacceptable."
Plainclothes officers roughly grabbed both protesters and bystanders who happened to be in the area by accident on Wednesday night, and arrested about 25 journalists, mostly reporters for Western and independent media, according to the Association of Belarus Journalists.
Most reporters were released after being harassed and told not to take pictures or record videos, the association said on its website.
Several videos recorded at the Wednesday protests showed plainclothes officers pull people from the crowd and even off bicycles, pushing some to the ground as police said through the megaphone that everyone should leave.
"We've come here to relax. Is relaxing now considered a protest?" one elderly woman sitting in a Minsk square responded to such a request, footage recorded by independent channel Belsat showed.
Trials for those detained began on Thursday as the courts are still processing cases of protesters from the previous rally on July 3, which likewise saw hundreds of arrests.
The administrator of "Revolution through the Social Network" Vyacheslav Dianov said the group would continue organising the rallies.
"We will be thinking of people's safety and changing our strategy. But the rallies will continue," he told AFP.
Vyasna estimated that the total number of arrests during 'silent protests' has reached 1,730 since June 15. Most of those who have been convicted have been given fines or jail terms of up to 15 days.
Lukashenko launched a crackdown on the opposition, unprecedented even in his authoritarian rule, after mass protests on the evening of his landslide re-election in December.
Dozens of opposition leaders have been sentenced to jail terms of up to six years after the December protests, when police detained nearly 700 people.
Lukashenko, president of the former Soviet republic for nearly 17 years, has been repeatedly criticised for the crackdown by Western leaders and faces travel sanctions from both the United States and the European Union.
The US House of Representatives approved a new bill late Wednesday to support democracy in Belarus and add congressional support for further travel sanctions for officials and security officers involved in the crackdown.
"Lukashenko has one ally left: fear," the head of opposition party United Civil Party Anatoly Lebedko told AFP. "They count only on special forces and intimidation of people."
© 2011 AFP