Thousands rally in the Belarusian capital against Lukashenko's regime

Thousands marched in the Belarusian capital of Minsk Wednesday, calling for independence and burning President Lukashenko's portraits in the mass protests against the state's authoritarian regime.

More than 4,000 demonstrators gathered in the city, some carrying the flag of the European Union, banners proclaiming "Independence!", "Belarus into Europe!", and "Freedom for political prisoners!", news agencies said.

The marches came on a semi-official Belarusian holiday known as Freedom Day, that marks the short-lived independent Belarusian republic formed in 1918, and destroyed by invading Soviet troops months later.

The demonstrators, according to witnesses mostly students from Minsk high schools or universities, gathered near the national Academy of Sciences, only a few hundred metres from the residence of Belarus' authoritarian president, Aleksander Lukashenko.

Marchers carrying road flares formed a live chain more than a kilometre long shortly after sunset, lighting up Minsk's main central thoroughfare Prospekt Nezavisimosti.

Before the march, arrests and searches were reported throughout the authoritarian ex-Soviet state, AP said earlier Wednesday. At least ten activists were said to be detained as Alexander Lukashenko's government vowed to prevent the rallies.

Lukashenko has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the US and some European countries for his crackdown on critics and independent media.



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