KYIV – Hundreds of women calling for the authoritarian president to step down protested in Belarus’ capital on Saturday, continuing the large demonstrations that have rocked the country since early August.
Police blocked off the center of Minsk and arrested more than 80 demonstrators, according to the Viasna human rights organization. Some of those arrested were chased down by police in building courtyards where they were trying to take refuge, Viasna said.
Protests, by far the largest and most persistent in Belarus since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, began Aug. 9 after an election that officials said gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office.
Opponents and some poll workers say the results, in which Lukashenko was tallied with 80% support, were manipulated.
Despite wide-scale detentions of demonstrators and the arrest of many prominent opposition figures, the protests haven't shown signs of abating. Lukashenko further angered opponents this week by taking the oath of office for a new term in an unexpected ceremony.
Protesters on Saturday carried placards denouncing him as “the secret president.”
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko's main election opponent who went into exile in Lithuania after the vote, praised the female demonstrators and derided the police in a statement.
“What about the men themselves, who, hiding their faces, use force against women? Is it possible to live peacefully with such men?” she said.
The election and Lukashenko's defiance of the protesters have come under strong criticism from the West, and Tsikhanouskaya this month urged the United Nations to send monitors to Belarus. The country's foreign minister will address the U.N. General Assembly later Saturday.
A large protest is expected on Sunday, typically the day that sees the biggest demonstrations attracting crowds estimated at up to 200,000.
Lukashenko, a former collective farm manager, has been in office since 1994. During that time he has repressed opposition and independent news media and kept most of the country's economy under Soviet-style state control.
This story has been corrected to show that it will be the Belarusian foreign minister who speaks to the U.N. General Assembly, not Lukashenko.