March 24, 2006 in Nation/World

Police storm opposition camp in Belarus

Jim Heintz Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Belarusian police detain protesters as they storm the opposition tent camp in the Belarusian capital of Minsk early this morning.
(Full-size photo)

MINSK, Belarus – Police stormed the opposition tent camp in the Belarusian capital Minsk early this morning, detaining hundreds of demonstrators who had spent a fourth night protesting President Alexander Lukashenko’s victory in a disputed election.

The arrests came after a half-dozen large police trucks and around 100 helmeted riot police with clubs pulled up to Oktyabrskaya Square in central Minsk about 3 a.m.

The police stood around for a few minutes and then barged into the tent camp filled with protesters.

They first wrestled about 50 resisting demonstrators into the trucks. The rest of the 200 to 300 demonstrators then filed into the trucks quietly, seeing that the end had come for the days-long protest that was unprecedented in the authoritarian ex-Soviet republic.

Journalists were kept about 60 feet away behind police lines, but a local reporter who gave her name only as Olga said she heard a man who was apparently heading the operation yell, “I told you not to beat them.”

The police who stormed into the camp had long truncheons, but were not seen beating demonstrators, as they often had done when breaking up smaller opposition rallies in past years. One local journalist said she saw police kick a few demonstrators who fell as they were being hustled into the truck.

By the end of the 10- to 15-minute operation, all of the protesters had been taken away, leaving only the remains of their encampment – about 20 tents and camping gear and several of the banned red-and-white flags that the demonstrators had waved.

City workers soon began throwing the remains of the camp into dump trucks, aided by two bulldozers scooping up debris.

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