More than 100 held in Belarus after attacks on ‘clapping protests'



More than a hundred people were detained in Belarus yesterday as the country's authorities again cracked down on the weekly "clapping protests" held by opponents of the authoritarian President, Alexander Lukashenko.

In Minsk alone, crowds of around 1,000 took to the streets as protests were held in cities across the country, largely organised through social network sites. Without banners or slogans, they walked quietly through the city centres, clapping their hands. In Minsk, authorities had closed off the main square and ordered an impromptu concert, with a mini-skirted girl-band playing ear-splitting pop music to an assembled crowd of teenagers waving Belarusian flags. But the protesters instead made their way along an adjacent street, clapping.

After a few minutes, dozens of plain-clothed thugs appeared and began assaulting random participants. People were plucked from the crowd indiscriminately and manhandled into waiting buses. The streets were crawling with security officers, most of whom were young skinheads wearing tracksuits and earpieces. Through the tinted windows of the buses, they could be seen punching those who had been arrested.

Known as the "last dictator in Europe", Mr Lukashenko has led Belarus since 1994, running the economy on neo-Soviet lines and stifling all political dissent. He won another term in office last December in elections which international observers say were rigged. After the protests which followed, hundreds of people were arrested, including most of the people who stood against him. The most realistic challenger, Andrei Sannikov, has been given a five-year jail sentence.

Mr Lukashenko does enjoy popularity among some of the country's population, but a recent economic downturn has boosted discontent. He has has long touted economic and political stability as his main achievement, but a bomb blast in the Minsk metro in April, and the worsening economic situation is eroding his support.

Prices for many staple items have doubled, leading to panic-buying and a run on exchange booths by locals desperate to exchange their Belarusian roubles for dollars or euros. Russia cut electricity to Belarus yesterday, citing unpaid debts. By the evening, agreement had been reached to restart electricity today.

Mr Lukashenko has hit out at ministers, foreign countries and the opposition, blaming everyone except himself for the crisis. He has threatened to close the borders to all imports if the situation continues to worsen, and accused people of being too lazy to work hard. Nikolai Snopkov, the Belarusian economy minister, snapped at a journalist who asked him whether he felt responsibility for the economic hardship. "I guess I should apologise for not having shot myself already?" the minister said.

Young people sick of Mr Lukashenko's regime have taken to social networks to plan their actions, because most opposition politicians are in jail or exile. One group on vkontakte, a Russian-language version of Facebook, has amassed 200,000 members. The group has promised to march every Wednesday until Mr Lukashenko steps down, saying they expect more and more people to join in each week. Major protests are also planned for Sunday, which is Belarusian Independence Day.

The unrepentant dictator

* Alexander Lukashenko, described by the Bush administration as the "last dictator in Europe", has revelled in the epithet. "An authoritarian style of rule is characteristic of me, and I have always admitted it," he said in 2003. This year, he complained that Belarus was suffering from "too much democracy". Born in a Belarusian village in 1954, Mr Lukashenko ran a collective farm in the 1980s, before entering politics. In 1994, he became President of Belarus, which gained independence when the Soviet Union collapsed. With his trademark moustache and folksy aphorisms, he is often seen as a figure of fun, but his methods have at times been brutal, with mass arrests and suspicious deaths plaguing the opposition. He often appears with his six-year-old son Nikolai. Mr Lukashenko has taken the child to meetings with heads of state, dressed him in full military regalia, and hinted that he wants him to take over from him.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas