BELARUS: MASS PROTEST
Minsk, 25th March 2006: The Day of Terror29 Mar 2006 21:53 GMT
On Saturday March 25th in Minsk a new wave of protests broke out and finished with a brutal clash with the police.
The arrest of 460 people in the protest tent camp on Friday morning had provoked the population and strengthened the general protest mood in Belarus. More than 5000 people gathered on Saturday in the centre of Minsk for the demonstration which had been announced. Authorities opposed the protest with all available police forces, special services and the army.
By the beginning of the action, the city centre was filled with dozens of armored special forces lorries, and riot squads (OMON) buses. Rows of the police moved quickly across the streets. The police divided streets into sectors, surrounding passers-by and not giving them an opportunity to move. People were squeezed against walls in danger of being crushed. The first detentions of individuals took place.
Nevertheless, a significant number of protestors managed to regroup in a nearby square and hold a meeting against police terror, elections fraud and for solidarity with the people arrested.
After the meeting a part of the group of protestors began to move towards the prison where the arrested people were being held (on Okrestina Street - Окрестина). The idea of rally was to provide support for those arrested and to ask to be able to give food and clothes to them. Some hours earlier, the prison guards had been strengthened, and snipers had been placed on roofs.
A few kilometres further, in a narrow deserted place, the path of the peace demonstration was met with lines of soldiers in riot equipment, and also soldiers of "SOBR" (special rapid response forces, whose chief, Dmitry Pavlichenko, is suspected of political assassinations). After people had stopped moving, explosions (presumably, gas or noise grenades) sounded in front of the protestors and the special troops went on the offensive. Some people, shell-shocked by the explosions, fell down, and armored soldiers stepped on their bodies. Other demonstrators started to run - they were caught, severely beaten and arrested. Two or three persons, lying on the ground unconscious, had to be transported on stretchers. One of them was in an extremely grave condition, and eyewitnesses thought he had been killed (Sergey Atroshchenkov). It was found out later that fortunately he is still alive, but doctors at the hospital have refused to give any information regarding his condition.
After the beating and dispersal, more than 100 persons were arrested and loaded into armored lorries. According to eyewitnesses, this level of police brutality was unprecedented in Belarus. In addition to demonstrators, in the epicenter of events there happened to be people who had just left buses and trams, some of them with children.
Further representatives of the special forces in armored jeeps began hunting for "suspicious" looking people on the streets of the city, arresting them for participation in the demonstration.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, only 10 people have been injured, and 8 of them are soldiers of special troops. The police deny using violent tactics in their attack.