Scenes from the Belarusian capital on September 6 showed massive crowds marching through the city center chanting “Long live Belarus!” and “Shame!”, and carrying red-and-white flags and banners, a symbol of the opposition that has been banned by the authorities.
Shortly after nightfall, journalists were reporting that the 29th-straight day of demonstrations was over, with defenses removed and traffic resuming in front of the Independence Palace.
Police manning the cordon in front of Lukashenka’s residence reportedly used tear gas on demonstrators, and at least 20 protesters at the site were detained.
A live blog of the “March of Unity” by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service reported that dozens of protesters had been detained in Minsk, and that confrontations between police and demonstrators had taken place in the the western city of Hrodna, and to the east in Mahilyou.
The Belarusian rights group Vyasna placed the number of detentions of protesters in Minsk at more than 180, with a further three dozen detained in Brest, and other detentions recorded in Baranavichy and Hrodna.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported on its Telegram channel that two journalists were detained.
Protests were also reported in the southern city of Homel.
Earlier in the day, riot police were seen stringing barbed wire around several government buildings and monuments in central Minsk, and helmeted police were spotted outside several subway stations.
Videos posted to several Telegram channels appeared to show armored vehicles being staged in several locations in the city.
Ahead of the march, security services warned of a crackdown against those who decided to participate in the unsanctioned demonstration.
Lukashenka, who has ruled the country for 26 years, has refused to hold talks with his opponents, and rebuffed calls to hold new elections.
He claims to have won the August 9 elections with over 80 percent of the vote, something his opponents and outside observers say is false.
Opposition groups are also calling for the release of political prisoners and for an independent investigation of the police crackdown that swept up thousands in the days after the election.
Meanwhile, the country’s leading opposition figure, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said her country was in “deep political crisis.”
“Belarusians have changed, they have woken up,” she said in a live stream on September 5 from Vilnius, where she fled in the days after the vote.
The people of Belarus “don’t believe in the current government anymore.” She said that it was “impossible to force people to back down.”
The postelection demonstrations are the greatest challenge to date for Lukashenka.
On September 5, two unsanctioned rallies organized separately by university students and women’s groups took place in Minsk. News agencies reported that dozens of students were dragged from the streets and pushed into vans by masked security agents.
Interfax quoted a police representative as saying that 25 students were later released, while nine others remained in detention.
The protests have not been limited to Minsk. Several hundred people rallied in the southern city of Homel on September 5, and police detained at least two protest participants.
Tsikhanouskaya was scheduled to visit Warsaw this week to hold meetings with top Polish officials.
A top Tsikhanouskaya aide told reporters in Warsaw on September 5 that she had been forced to leave Belarus by authorities.
Volha Kovalkova said she was made to lie down on the floor of an intelligence service car driving her to the border, where she was released. She managed to board a Polish bus after the driver recognized her.
“Everything that happened these past days and weeks I consider as torture. They threatened me with lengthy detention several times,” Kovalkova said.
With reporting by Current Time, Reuters, Interfax, and AFP