Belarus election: Women form ‘solidarity chains’ to condemn crackdown

Women have formed human chains in Belarus to condemn a crackdown on protests over the disputed election.

Many dressed in white and carried flowers as they called for an end to police brutality.

Unrest erupted after long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko was declared winner of Sunday’s presidential election, in a vote condemned by the EU and US as neither free nor fair.

Thousands of people have been arrested and at least two have died.

In the latest official figures, the interior ministry said police had detained 700 people during protests on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 6,700.

Some detainees were released on Thursday. Tearful relatives have been gathering outside a jail north of the capital Minsk, hoping to be reunited with their loved ones or for information on their whereabouts.

Several strikes have been reported at state-owned factories, where workers object to the violent treatment of protesters.

Hundreds of women formed “solidarity chains” in Minsk and other cities as protests went into a fifth day. Participants told reporters they wanted a peaceful resolution, as they called for all detained protesters to be freed.

During the afternoon, women marched in big numbers down the main thoroughfare in Minsk, Independence Avenue, accompanied by a chorus of hooting cars.

Video footage shared on social media showed opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova joining the female protesters in Minsk, holding a bunch of flowers.

She was one of three women who pooled their resources to spearhead the opposition. The other two have left the country.

Veronika Tsepkalo fled Belarus on the day of the vote while the main opposition candidate in the election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was briefly detained on Monday before being forced to leave for Lithuania.

Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, released a video saying she made the “very difficult decision” to leave because of her children.

The opposition candidate was a stay-at-home mother until she entered the race after her husband was arrested and blocked from registering for the vote.

She became Mr Lukashenko’s toughest opposition challenge in years, leading large rallies in the lead up to the vote.

But Mr Lukashenko dismissed her bid, saying a woman could not lead Belarus.

“Our constitution is not for women,” he said earlier this year. “Our society has not matured enough to vote for a woman. This is because by constitution the president handles a lot of power.”

Nobel literature laureate Svetlana Alexievich accused Belarus authorities of declaring war on their own people and urged Mr Lukashenko to stand down.

Aged 65, he has ruled the former Soviet country since 1994 and has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from abroad.

As protests continued on Thursday, some workers organised strikes and walkouts in Minsk, Grodno in the west and Zhodino, to the north-east of the capital.

Russian internet giant Yandex said armed individuals had entered two of its offices in Minsk and barred employees inside from leaving. They left some hours later.

(c) BBC

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