Protesters arrested in Belarus during opposition rally

Scores of people have been arrested in the Belarus capital, Minsk, as supporters of the country’s repressed opposition tried to hold a protest march.

The attempted demonstration was to mark the 100th anniversary of the short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic of 1918-19, seen by the opposition as the foundation of an independent Belarus.

The anniversary is traditionally a day for opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian government to try to rally.

Journalists at the scene counted at least 70 people taken away by police. The human rights group Viasna said five of its observers were among those arrested.

One of Belarus’s most prominent opposition figures, Nikolai Statkevich, was arrested outside his home as he headed to the gathering, said his wife, Marina Adamovich. She said he had been sentenced to 10 days in jail.

Lukashenko, in office since 1994, sharply restricts opposition activities and independent news media.

Although the march was banned, authorities allowed thousands of people to gather in a park to mark the independence proclamation’s 100th anniversary.

“Today it’s well visible that Lukashenko is the Soviet past and we are the future,” said one participant, Mikhail Yaromchik, a 20-year-old student.

Lukashenko said on Friday that the 1918 Belarus republic was a “dismal page of our history”, but nevertheless allowed 25 March to be publicly celebrated this year for the first time in his 24-year rule.

However, while the authorities sanctioned a concert in central Minsk, the opposition march was banned.

Thousands of “Freedom Day” protesters attended Sunday’s concert, many carrying the red and white flag of the 1918 republic, which has become an opposition symbol.

Last year more than 700 people were arrested during a 25 March opposition rally, prompting warnings from the EU, which had lifted sanctions on Belarus after Lukashenko freed imprisoned opposition politicians in 2016.

Analysts said authorities allowed the holiday to be celebrated this year to avoid a repeat of last year’s unrest and a possible new reprimand from Brussels.

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