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Women protest police violence in Minsk Women protest police violence in Minsk  (AFP or licensors)

Thousands Detained As Tensions Escalate In Belarus

As many as 6,000 anti-government protestors who disputed the victory of President Alexander Lukashenko in Sunday's election detained. Clashes continued for a third straight night with police violence reported in the capital Minsk and other cities after main opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled the troubled nation.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Anti-government protestors gathered despite a police crackdown that injured dozens of people in recent days prompting warnings of possible European Union sanctions. One demonstrator died in the clashes, officials and activists said.

Journalists have been detained or beaten, as well. Broadcaster BBC said its team in Minsk was attacked by police, who were accused by protesters of brutality.

Recent footage showed masked security forces beating and detaining protestors. "What are you doing?" screamed a young woman. "Go out of here," shouted a police officer. "Back to your homes."   

Cries could be heard from police vans where people apparently suffered abuse. More protests were due against President Lukashenko. 

Apologizing to supporters 

Demonstrators gathered without the presence of Tsikhanouskaya, who fled the nation, amid reported threats against herself and her children. 

The 37-year former English teacher who entered the presidential race following her husband's jailing in Belarus apologized to her supporters in a video statement. 

"It was a tough decision to make," Tsikhanouskaya said, looking haggard and distressed. "I know that many of you will understand me, many others will condemn me, and some will even hate me. But God forbid you ever face the choice that I faced."

Tsikhanouskaya fled Belarus after being detained seven hours for complaining to the national electoral committee about the election results. Officials gave her just 10 percent of the vote. They awarded 80 percent to the 65-year-old President Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for decades.

Tsikhanouskaya arrived Tuesday in neighboring Lithuania, where Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius stressed Wednesday that she was in "good spirits" and would speak "in the near future."

EU expresses concerns 

Like Belarus, Lithuania was also once under Soviet Union rule. Lithuania shares a 680 kilometers (420 miles) border with its neighbor to the south. 

The Baltic nation, a member of the NATO military alliance and the European Union, has long sheltered Belarusian and Russian opposition figures.

However, the EU shares Lithuania's concerns about the situation in Belarus. Brussels demands the release of all opposition detainees. 

The Belarusian interior ministry registered 3,000 detentions after rallies on Monday night, 2,000 on Tuesday, and another 1,000 on Wednesday.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde said EU foreign ministers would meet on Friday to discuss imposing sanctions on Belarus.

12 August 2020, 17:03