Belarusian authorities said on Monday that they detained 633 protesters on Sunday after 100,000 gathered in the capital, Minsk, and other cities as part of a month-long movement calling for President Alexander Lukashenko to resign.
“Ahead of the march, security services warned of a crackdown against those who decided to participate in the unsanctioned demonstration,” Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported. Earlier Sunday, RFE said that “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.”
Police in Minsk on Monday denied detaining Maryya Kalesnikavaa, a leading member of the opposition, during Sunday’s protests following reports claiming she was “taken away in a minivan” by security forces. Dissidents began protests on August 9 following Lukashenko’s disputed reelection as president of Belarus for a sixth consecutive term. The opposition claimed that the state election committee falsified the results in Lukashenko’s favor and took to the streets to protest in the capital. The protests have since evolved into a nationwide demand for Lukashenko to step down, and have gained the backing of the European Union (E.U.).
Reuters quoted three unnamed E.U. diplomats on Monday as saying that the bloc will impose economic sanctions on 31 senior Belarusian officials, including Interior Minister Yury Karayeu, by mid-September.
“E.U. foreign ministers gave their broad political approval for the sanctions — E.U. travel bans and asset freezes — at a meeting in Berlin late last month but did not decide who to target,” according to the report.
“We initially agreed on 14 names but many states felt that was not sufficient. We have now reached consensus on another 17,” one of the sources told Reuters. “These are senior officials responsible for the [allegedly fraudulent] election, for violence, and for the crackdown [of security forces on protesters].”
Lukashenko blames the protests on Western forces seeking to remove him from his 26-year-reign of power over the country. He claims that NATO troops have built an aggressive presence on Belarus’s borders in recent weeks.
On Monday, the Guardian reported that Lukashenko was “due shortly to fly to Moscow for talks with Putin.” Moscow and Minsk have stepped up bilateral talks since protests began a month ago. Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Lukashenko upon his reelection.
“The two leaders have since held several telephone conversations,” Russian news agency TASS reported on Monday.