Belarusian police peacefully disperse Minsk protest

Police in Minsk peacefully broke up an unsanctioned demonstration of several hundred people in a central square on Wednesday against government measures aimed at propping up Belarus’s crippled economy.

The Belarusian authorities received widespread international criticism for brutally clamping down on anti-government protesters following elections in December.

Different reports estimated the numbers at Wednesday’s demonstration at somewhere between several hundred and several thousand people, although police were unable to give an official figure.

Protesters used the Internet and social networking sites to call anyone dissatisfied with government measures onto the streets on Wednesday. A RIA Novosti reporter said the peaceful protesters stayed away from anti-government slogans.

Police did not use weapons and tried only to move the crowd away from the square. In response protesters clapped and shouted “thank you!”

In a similar protest in the west Belarusian city of Grodno, police arrested several people, including a Russian citizen working as a cameraman for Poland’s Channel One, who was later realeased.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday he would clamp down hard on anyone caught protesting against economic measures.

The threat followed the break up of small protests on Sunday and Monday on the Belarusian- Polish border against a ban on the export of fuel, various foodstuffs and white goods. Several protesters were arrested and fined.

The Belarusian ruble has come under severe pressure in the first five months of the year from a large trade deficit, generous wage increases and loans granted by the government ahead of the December 2010 presidential elections, which spurred strong demand for foreign currency.

In the spring, the country’s authorities devaluated the national currency by 36 percent, froze prices on some staple foods and introduced fuel rationing to keep the lid on the deepening crisis.

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