Freed from Belarus jails, protesters recount beatings


On Saturday, opposition supporters gathered for the funeral of a man who died during last week's demonstrations in the capital, Minsk.

The 34-year-old died on August 10 as demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Minsk, denouncing official figures showing that authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, had won a sixth term in office.

In a sign of the pressure mounting on him, Lukashenko said on Saturday he wanted to speak to Putin, warning that street protests were not just a threat to Belarus.

Protesters said the fact that Lukashenko had been officially credited with 80 per cent of votes in the election showed it had been massively rigged, as Tikhanovskaya drew large crowds in the weeks before the vote.

Lukashenko vowed not to "give up the country to anyone" and rejected foreign mediation to stabilize the situation in his country, while speaking to the Center for Strategic Management at the Belarusian Ministry of Defense, state news agency Belta reported on Saturday. "Those who roam the streets, a lot of them do not understand this".

She called for an end to violence, which has surged since Lukashenko's re-election, and asked all city mayors to organize peaceful gatherings this weekend.

She is also demanding authorities be held to account for a police crackdown on post-election protests that saw more than 6,700 people arrested.

During the four nights that followed, black-clad riot police detained thousands of largely peaceful demonstrators in Minsk and other cities after firing tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.

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The partner of a man who died in the protests engulfing Belarus says she does not believe the official account that Alexander Taraikovsky was killed when an explosive device that he meant to throw at police blew up in his hand.

But many of those released had been visibly beaten, while others spoke of the abuse they endured at the hands of the Belarus police forces. On Wednesday, Belarusian authorities announced the death of one of the demonstrators.

"On Friday, when people were marching towards the Independence Square, there was some military in front of the government house, but they lowered their shields, which led to remarkable scenes with women hugging them".

Unlike the scenes of violent detentions days earlier, police stood by quietly. "I take responsibility for what they say was violence against those people, who happened to be nearby and failed to back off quickly enough", Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said late Thursday.

European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Friday to discuss a response, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the 27-nation bloc would "increase the pressure" on Belarus. We need help for everyone living in Belarus because the people have protested enough.

In a televised meeting on Friday he claimed people had arrived from Poland, Ukraine and the Netherlands as well as from Russian opposition groups and were using protesters as "cannon fodder".

"They beat people ferociously, with impunity, and they arrest anyone".

Lithuania and Latvia have also previously said they are prepared to mediate in Belarus, provided the authorities stopped violence against protesters and formed a national council with members of civil society.