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Belarus Feature: Suppressing Protest...Again

Last winter we covered the Belarussian regime's repression of protest after President Aleksandr Lukashenko was officially re-elected with 80% of the vote. 

We return to the story as the regime moved to prevent demonstrations on Sunday, which officially is remembered for the liberation from Germany in World War II. Thousands of police and special forces were deployed in the center of the capital Minsk, and access to social media and websites was blocked. Dozens of activists, including Stanislav Shushkevich, Belarus' first post-Soviet leader, were reportedly detained, and others were called in by the intelligence services and warned not to protest. 

Belarusian police fired tear gas and detained scores of those who did dare to rally. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Halina Abakunchyk said, "I've never witnessed anything like this in Minsk in all the demonstrations I've covered. People are being snatched up on the streets. Police vans are coming up along the side streets."

Viasna Human Rights Centre said 340 people were still detained on Monday, 160 of them in Minsk. Among those arrested were 17 journalists, including two RFE/RL correspondents. 

The website of RFE/RL's Belarus Service was also taken down for several hours by a suspected distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. 

President Lukashenko claimed that "an escalation of information intervention is under way" as part of plans drawn up in "the capitals of separate countries" to bring about a popular revolution: "We understand that the goal of these attacks is to sow uncertainty and alarm, to destroy social harmony, and in the end to bring us to our knees and bring to naught the achievements of our independence."

Belarus has been under economic pressure. Russia has been seeking greater influence in exchange for loans, while the European Union has threatened to expand sanctions imposed on Lukashenko as punishment for the winter crackdown on the opposition.

A new opposition group called "Revolution by Social Networks" has held a series of Internet-organized rallies, attended by thousands, in about 30 cities and towns. The protesters carry no signs and walk through the streets, silent except for their clapping in unison.

Former President Shushkevich and about 20 students were taken off a train from Vilnius, Lithuania, and held overnight. Shushkevich, who met with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton while in Vilnius, said he and the students were released with a warning not to take part in protests Sunday.

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