New Belarus protest fails to muster numbers: AFP
A new protest called through the Internet against the regime of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko failed to muster significant numbers on Wednesday after previous actions ended in mass arrests.
Only around 20 opposition activists turned up at the central market in Minsk following a call for the protest by the Internet-based group Revolution Through the Social Network, an AFP correspondent said.
The opposition has held regular protests against the rule of the authoritarian Lukashenko amid a severe economic crisis, sometimes rallying hundreds of people for the silent "clapping" demonstrations.
The authorities have caused international outrage by brutally arresting participants, sentencing dozens to administrative terms of several days in jail.
Police came prepared for the latest protest, parking large vans on the streets around the market but did not appear to arrest anyone. Russian social networking site VKontakte -- where the call for the protest was made -- was blocked all day in Belarus.
US charge d'affaires Michael Scanlan and several embassy staff arrived at the market to do shopping just before the protest was due to start but it was not clear if their appearance was linked to the intended demonstration.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 17 years, has been shunned by the West after the authorities broke up a mass protest following his disputed re-election in December and jailed several leading opponents.
The call for the Wednesday protest coincided with the 20th anniversary of Belarus' declaration of sovereignty from the USSR.
But after a controversial 1996 referendum backed by Lukashenko, Belarus now celebrates its Independence Day on July 3 to mark the re-capture of Minsk by the Red Army from occupying Nazi forces.
© 2011 AFP