More than 100,000 Belarusians flooded the streets of the capital Minsk on Sunday, on the final day before a deadline set by the opposition for President Alexander Lukashenko to resign, following months of protests.
People streamed in from different directions along Victors' Avenue to the Hero City Obelisk on a central square that commemorates World War II.
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Videos taken by bystanders at the demonstrations in Minsk showed a convoy of buses carrying security personnel to the city center, along with metal cordons. Meanwhile, officials shut 12 metro stations and restricted mobile internet in an effort to stop people from gathering.
The Interior Ministry issued an advance warning that people should not attend demonstrations for which no permit has been issued.
Nearly 130 arrests
Human rights group Vesna-96 said 128 people were detained, and shared a list of their names online.
Journalist Hanna Liubakova told DW that, as with previous protests, police moved in toward the end of the day to make arrests.
"Riot police attacked peaceful protesters with stun grenades and we also heard shootings — police shot rubber bullets as well — and there is at least one confirmed wounded person," she said.
An interior ministry spokeswoman said it was too early to say how many people had been injured or detained. "We will only know by the morning if there are any injured people," Olga Chemodanova was cited by the Russian news agency RIA as saying.
Some journalists covering the protests were also arrested, local media reported.
Several protesters were detained by police in the town of Lida in western Belarus, RIA cited the regional branch of the interior ministry as saying. Police reportedly fired tear gas at protesters.
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'Resign or face strike'
Exiled civil rights activist Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and opposition protesters this month gave embattled strongman Lukashenko a deadline of two weeks to resign, put an end to police violence and release political prisoners, warning that he would otherwise face a general strike.
Although some members of the opposition have been released from prison, there are no more concessions in sight from Lukashenko's administration.
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Tsikhanouskaya said later in the day that the national strike would begin on Monday after the government responded with force to the protests.
"The regime once again showed Belarusians that force is the only thing it is capable of," she wrote in a statement. "That's why tomorrow, October 26, a national strike will begin."
Tsikhanouskaya fled Belarus after an August vote saw Lukashenko claim victory for a sixth term. During a visit to Copenhagen on Friday to meet Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod she called for a repeat ballot “as soon as possible,” and in a separate statement said a date for the next vote must be determined by the end of the year.
Uniformed police have repeatedly cracked down on protesters, demonstrating against Lukashenko’s rule, following the vote which several western countries and officials denounced as rigged.
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lc/mm (AFP, dpa)