Belarusian protests hit by stun grenades

·2-min read

Thousands of protesters in Belarus swarmed the streets of the capital to demand the resignation of the country's longtime president for the 13th straight weekend and encountered police using stun grenades to break up the crowds.

Police also fired warning shots in the air from what authorities said were "non-lethal weapons."

As many as 20,000 people took part in Sunday's rally, the Visana human rights centre estimated.

Large crowds of people in the eastern part of Minsk headed towards Kurapaty, a wooded area on the city's outskirts where over 200,000 people were executed by Soviet secret police during Stalinist-era purges.

Demonstrators carried banners reading, "The people's memory (lasts) longer than a life of a dictatorship" and "Stop torturing your people!"

The crowds directed chants of "Go away!" at Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who won his sixth term in an August 9 election that is widely seen as rigged.

Lukashenko's crushing victory over his popular, inexperienced challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has triggered the largest and the most sustained wave of mass protests of his 26 years in power.

The 66-year-old former state farm director, who was once nicknamed "Europe's Latest Dictator," has relentlessly suppressed opposition and independent media in Belarus but struggled to quell the recent unrest.

Large protest crowds have assembled in the streets of Minsk and other cities almost daily, despite police countering the demonstrations with water cannons, stun grenades, rubber bullets and mass detentions.

The Belarusian Interior Ministry threatened to use firearms against the rally-goers "if need be."

On Sunday, police acknowledged officers fired several warning shots into the air during the demonstration in Minsk "to prevent violations of the law," but maintained that "non-lethal weapons" were used.

Armoured off-road vehicles equipped with machine guns were seen in Minsk for the first time in almost three months of protests, along with water cannon vehicles and other anti-riot equipment.

Several metro stations were closed, and the mobile internet service did not work.

Police detained over 250 people in Minsk and other Belarusian cities where protests were held on Sunday, according to the Viasna centre.

Several journalists were among the detainees, and many of those detained were beaten up, human rights activists said.