Thousands March Against Government in Belarus

By VOA News

Thousands of opposition demonstrators have held a protest in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

About 4,000 people ignored the instruction of authorities to hold the rally in a park away from the city center, and instead they gathered in downtown Minsk Wednesday. Witnesses say the protests were peaceful and officials did not try to disperse the crowed.

Rights groups say at least two opposition activists were detained.

The rally came on the anniversary of the short-lived first independent Belarusian republic formed in 1918. Demonstrators called for greater democracy and human rights in the country.

The United States has dubbed Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko Europe's last dictator for suppressing human rights, stifling free speech and rigging elections.

But U.S. and EU officials have said Belarus has taken steps to improve ties with the West. These include freeing a number of political prisoners last year, and allowing the opposition to take part in parliamentary elections, even though it won no seats.

Earlier this month, the European Union agreed to extend a suspension of a travel ban against President Lukashenko and other top officials.



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