Belarus police threatened to start using combat weapons Monday after weekly protests in the capital of Minsk took a violent turn, in a sign that the authorities may be preparing even harsher tactics as the protests enter a third month.
“The protests, which have shifted mostly to Minsk, have become more organized and extremely radical,” a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in a video statement. “Interior Ministry troops won’t leave the streets and will use special equipment and combat weapons if necessary.”
Unidentified men in balaclavas used stun grenades and pepper spray on people participating in a march of pensioners against the authorities on Monday, Tut.by website reported.
A day earlier, police detained over 700 people as protesters clashed with law enforcement, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The violence appeared to mark a shift from the largely peaceful weekly protests that started after a disputed Aug. 9 election.
Monday’s warning from police comes after President Alexander Lukashenko met in prison with several jailed members of the opposition over the weekend. After the meeting on constitutional reforms, which included presidential candidate Viktor Babaryka, two of the participants were released under house arrest,according to state-run Belta news service.
Lukashenko, who has been in office for 26 years, was sworn in for a sixth term on Sept. 23 as the opposition has maintained daily protests against his regime that swell to hundreds of thousands across the country at weekends.
European Union foreign ministers said Monday they are ready to add Lukashenko to ablacklist of Belarusians who have impeded free elections that it unveiled earlier this month.
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