KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Thousands of women marched through the capital of Belarus on Saturday, calling for the resignation of the authoritarian president, and university students demonstrated against the detention of classmates during the wave of protests gripping the country for four weeks.
For the first time in the demonstrations, supporters of LGBT rights appeared with rainbow flags in the women’s march in Minsk, an indication that opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko are becoming bolder.
“LGBT people are calling for freedom. We are tired of living in a dictatorship where we simply didn’t exist,” Anna Bredova, one of the rainbow flag bearers, told The Associated Press by phone.
Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Belarus in 1994, stigmatization of it is strong. Authorities haven’t allowed any LGBT organization legal registry; same-sex marriage is prohibited.
About 5,000 women took part in the march, according to the human rights organization Viasna. Police followed the march, but no detentions were reported.
Marches and demonstrations by women have become a frequent feature of the protests, which broke out Aug. 9 after the election in which Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, was officially tallied with an 80% landslide victory.
Protests took place after some previous elections that Lukashenko won with lopsided margins, but this year’s have been by far the largest and longest-lasting. Sunday protests have been especially large, bringing crowds estimated at well over 100,000 people.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of students formed human chains to demonstrate against the detention of students at the State Linguistics University. Viasna said about 20 of the students were detained Saturday.
Lukasheno opponents have formed a Coordination Council to drive the protests and push for a transition of power.
On Saturday, one of its most prominent members, Olga Kovalkova, surfaced in Poland after being jailed in Belarus for organizing protests. She told reporters that police came to her in jail during the night and said she could either leave the country or face a long term in prison. Masked police then drove her to the border, she said.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the election, fled to Lithuania the day after the vote.
On Friday, she addressed the U.N. Security Council via video link, asking it to “stop blatant human rights violations and cynical disregard for human dignity right in the middle of Europe.”
She accused Lukashenko of stealing the election and asked the U.N. to condemn the crackdown on protesters, send a monitoring mission to Belarus and call a special session of its Human Rights Council to discuss the situation in the country.
Authorities also have revoked the accreditation of many Belarusian journalists and deported some foreign journalists, including two Moscow-based Associated Press journalists. AP’s Belarusian journalists were among those told their press credentials had been revoked.
Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of Belarus at https://www.apnews.com/Belarus