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 across the country after long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko was declared winner of Sunday’s presidential election, sparking allegations of vote rigging.
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.
As a fifth day of protests got under way, hundreds of women formed “solidarity chains” in Minsk. Participants told reporters they wanted a peaceful resolution, as they called for all detained protesters to be freed.
It was the second day in a row that women in Minsk had organised such action. Similar scenes were also reported elsewhere in the country.
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 fleeing to Lithuania.
An associate said Ms Tikhanovskaya was escorted from the country by the authorities as part of a deal to allow the release of her campaign manager, who was arrested on the eve of the election.
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.”
Mr Lukashenko, 65, has ruled the former Soviet country since 1994. He has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from abroad.
As protests continued on Thursday, some workers organised strikes.
Russian internet giant Yandex said armed individuals had entered its offices in Minsk and barred employees inside from leaving. The company said it was trying to get more information about the incident.
Election officials said Mr Lukashenko won 80% of the vote on Sunday, but protests erupted amid widespread allegations of vote rigging. The result was condemned by the European Union as “neither free nor fair”.
Hundreds of people have been injured in a police crackdown on protests, some seriously. A BBC crew was attacked by police on Tuesday evening.
Officials have confirmed the deaths of two people.