Protests against a new five-year term for authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko entered their fourth day Wednesday after hundreds of demonstrators spent another bitter-cold night on a central Minsk square to press their cause.
Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, who has denounced Lukashenko's overwhelming victory in Sunday's election as a farce and is pushing for a new vote, urged demonstrators to keep up daily protests and called for a major show of strength Saturday.
"Come here every day to speak of freedom," Milinkevich told the crowd late Tuesday, speaking in light from TV cameras after the lighting on Oktyabrskaya Square was shut off, plunging protesters into darkness.
Later, long after midnight, at least 700 people surrounded a jumble of small tents young protesters had set up on the square, a far larger crowd than the previous night, though it dwindled by daybreak. Demonstrators bounced to music, and against the cold, and chanted "Mi-lin-ke-vich! and "Long Live Belarus!"
While police have not moved to disperse protesters, unusual in a tightly-controlled country where the authorities normally move fast to silence shows of dissent, they persisted with the detentions and harassment that marked an election campaign widely denounced as unfair.
Two top opposition figures, United Civil Party leader Anatoly Lebedko and his deputy, Alexander Dobrovolsky, were detained Tuesday and sentenced to 15 and 10 days in jail, respectively, for participation in an unsanctioned protest.
According to the official vote count, Lukashenko, a former collective farm director who has been in power for 12 years, won with nearly 83 percent. Popular among many Belarusians for providing economic and political stability, his victory had been expected, reports the AP.
A 20,000-strong group of PMC Wagner fighters stationed in Belarus disappeared from the field of view of the collective West