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100,000 March in Belarus Protest       09/20 12:16

   

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Tens of thousands of Belarusians calling for the 
authoritarian president to resign marched through the capital Sunday as the 
country's wave of protests entered its seventh week.

   Hundreds of soldiers blocked off the center of Minsk, deploying water 
cannons and armored personnel carriers and erecting barbed wire barriers. 
Protests also took place in several other cities, including Brest and Grodno.

   The crowd in Minsk included about 100,000 people, said Ales Bialiatski, head 
of the Viasna human rights organization. He said dozens of demonstrators were 
arrested in Minsk and Grodno.

   Protests began Aug. 9 after an election that official results say gave 
President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office; opponents and some poll 
workers say the results were manipulated.

   Lukashenko, who has repressed opposition and independent news media during 
26 years in power, has rejected suggestions of dialogue with the protesters. 
Many members of the Coordination Council that was formed by the opposition to 
push for a transition of power have been arrested or have fled the country.

   The Minsk demonstrators carried the red-and-white flags that were 
independent Belarus' national standard before being replaced in 1995, early in 
Lukashenko's tenure. Some bore placards depicting Lukashenko as a mustachioed 
cockroach.

   Although protests have taken place daily since the election, the Sunday 
gatherings in Minsk have been by far the largest, attracting crowds of as many 
as 200,000 people.

   "Every Sunday, you are showing yourselves and the world that the Belarusian 
people are the power," Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was Lukashenko's main 
election opponent, said in a video message from Lithuania, where she is in 
exile.

   The marchers also carried portraits of Maria Kolsenikova, a top opposition 
figure who has been jailed for two weeks and is facing charges of undermining 
state security that could bring a five-year prison term. Kolesnikova has said 
security forces drove her to the border with Ukraine to try to make her leave 
the country, but that she tore up her passport so she couldn't cross the border.

   In a statement relayed by her lawyer on Sunday, Kolsenikova urged protesters 
to continue.

   "Freedom is worth fighting for. Do not be afraid to be free," she said. "I 
do not regret anything and would do the same again."

   Also Sunday, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said an 
investigation has been opened into the release by hackers of the personal 
information of more than 1,000 employees of the ministry, which runs the police 
forces.

 
 
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