Authorities in Belarus seem to have been thrown off balance by rising protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s policies. OMON and regular police hesitated for hours on February 14 before using batons and tear gas to disperse a 4,000-strong unauthorized procession, mainly of students and other young people, organized in downtown Minsk by the Popular Front and the United Civic Action Party. Approximately 40 participants were arrested and face trial on misdemeanor charges. Held under the watchword "Belarus in Europe," the procession passed in front of Lukashenko’s residence chanting pro-democracy slogans, and stopped outside foreign embassies where the protest leaders handed over a petition against the "attempts to revive the Soviet empire."
In a concurrent protest, the staff of the Belarusan-language radio station FM 101.2 picketed a central Minsk square, wearing gags. The authorities have closed that independent and popular radio station, whose programs have been critical of Lukashenko’s policy of linguistic Russification. The presidential administration has deprived the station of its transmitter and frequency. Political protests are likely to merge with those of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which has announced a series of public actions in support of its application for legal registration and against the government’s economic policies. (Belapan, Interfax, February 15)
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