Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Minsk, the capital city of Belarus, to protest police violence against peaceful demonstrators earlier this week after a disputed presidential election.
Police reportedly sought to ease angry demonstrators by releasing 2,000 jailed protestors Friday.
Belarussians marched this week in the capital shouting “Go Away” to President Alexander Lukashenko, and demanded his resignation after his 26-year reign, which was extended Sunday.
Protestors have claimed the Sunday election was rigged as polls allegedly showed 80 percent in favor of Lukashenko, and just ten percent for the opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
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Friday’s crowds drew over 20,000 protestors to Independence Square in Minsk.
Though soldiers were lined up to protect the nearby government headquarters, roughly a dozen guards lowered their riot shields which reportedly prompted women to come forward and embrace them in sign of solidarity.
Lukashenko has claimed the protestors are puppets of foreign governments, attempting to disrupt peace in Belarus.
“Do you want me to sit and wait until they turn Minsk upside down?” he said. “We won’t be able to stabilize the situation afterwards. We must take a break, collect ourselves and calm down. And let us restore order and deal with those who have come here.”
“Don’t get out into the streets. You should understand that you and your children are being used as cannon fodder,” Lukashenko said.
Tikjavovskaya, who fled to Lithuania following the election, resurfaced on social media Friday, applauding the protests.
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“I admire Belarusians. Thank you, my dear ones!” She wrote, reported NPR Friday. “We did the impossible. We showed that we’re the majority, and that this country belongs to us, the people of Belarus, and not one person.”
Lukashenko has reportedly told the city’s soldiers to avoid violence in order to deescalate the protests. “If a person falls down and lies still, don’t beat him,” Lukashenko said this week.
But the newly re-elected President has also drawn in more condemnation from protestors who are angry by his dismissal of the demonstrations, accusing foreign adversaries as the provocateurs.
“Nobody believes these horror stories about external forces. We are tired of constant enemies and conspiracies,” Galina Erema, a demonstrator told the Associated Press. “He usurped power and has not left for 26 years. This is the reason for the protests.”
The release of the roughly 2,000 of the 7,000 people detained, appears to be another attempt by the Interior Ministry to ease tensions flourishing in Minsk.
But many of those released had been visibly beaten, while others spoke of the abuse they endured at the hands of the Belarus police forces.
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The brutal arrests coupled by what many believe was a rigged election has drawn the attention of the international community.
“Work begins on sanctioning those responsible for violence and falsification,” top foreign policy leader for the European Union, Josep Borrell tweeted Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.