Tens of thousands of supporters of the opposition marched in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Sunday, despite the fact that the authorities used a heavy police presence.
The protest came a day after officials arrested hundreds of protesters at a women’s march in the capital.
Military trucks and vehicles rolled into central Minsk when anonymous hackers leaked the personal information of more than 1,000 police officers in retaliation for cracking down on anti-government demonstrations.
The protest movement demanding the withdrawal of long-time President Alexander Lukashenko has held mass rallies every week since his controversial election victory on August 9.
The latest opposition protests began at 1
People with red and white protest flags gathered at the “March of Justice”, which took up the entire central avenue, and went to the closely guarded Palace of Independence, where Lukashenko has his offices.
They held up posters with slogans such as “Cowards Beat Up Women” and “Get Out!”.
Riot police in black balaclavas began sporadically detaining protesters with flags and signs, while some people sought refuge in a mall and fast food restaurant to avoid arrest.
Videos and photos of the military convoy that drove to the center of Minsk and brought rolls of barbed wire with them were published on the Belarusian opposition news sites.
The protest comes after riot police took action on Saturday against peaceful demonstrators who came out with shiny accessories for a so-called “Sparkly March”. Police dragged protesters into vans, picked up some women, and carried them.
Belarusian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said on Sunday that police arrested 415 people in Minsk and 15 in other cities for violating the rules for mass demonstrations. She said 385 had been released.
Chemodanova warned Belarusians that they could be prosecuted for organizing such protests.
The number of arrests on Saturday was far higher than a similar protest last week, prompting the opposition Coordinating Council to warn of “a new phase in the escalation of violence against peaceful demonstrators”.
Among those arrested was one of the most famous faces of the protest movement, 73-year-old activist Nina Baginskaya, although she was later released.
Police records have been leaked
The police’s aggressive tactics prompted an opposition Telegram channel – Nexta, with more than two million subscribers – to publish a list of the names and ranks of more than 1,000 police officers.
“While the arrests continue, we will continue to publish data on a large scale,” said a statement in the messaging app on Saturday evening. “Even under a balaclava, nobody will remain anonymous.”
The protesters have tried to expose the identity of police officers who appear at demonstrations in civilian clothes or in uniforms without badges or nameplates and try to take off their masks and balaclavas.
The government said it would find and punish those behind the data breach.
“The forces, resources and technology available to the law enforcement bodies make it possible to identify and prosecute the vast majority of those who are guilty of disclosing personal information online,” said Chemodanova.
Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, was officially declared the winner of last month’s polls with 80.1 percent of the vote. However, the opposition claims fraud and regards opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has sought refuge in Lithuania, as the real winner.
In a video clip, Tikhanovskaya urged her Belarusian compatriots to continue fighting for a country in which it is worth living in the so-called “March of Justice”.
“Every week you show yourself and the world that the Belarusian people are a force,” said the 38-year-old.
Tikhanovskaya will meet with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday as the EU prepares sanctions against those it holds responsible for fraudulent elections and violence against demonstrators.
The authorities have detained or evicted many of Tikhanovskaya’s allies who led the Coordination Council.
One of her campaign partners, Maria Kolesnikova, was arrested on charges of undermining national security.
Lukashenko has turned down opposition calls for his resignation and has sought help from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has promised law enforcement officials if necessary assistance and a $ 1.5 billion loan.