Up to 1,000 people gathered at the center of Minsk on Saturday to demonstrate against so-called integration with Russia, which they feared may lead to the loss of Belarus’ independence.
The street protest came ahead of talks between Aliaksandr Lukašenka and Vladimir Putin in Russia’s Sochi on Saturday evening, during which the leaders of Belarus and Russia were expected to discuss integration roadmaps and make a decision on them.
“The duty of our generation is to defend independence,” Paval Seviaryniec told the crowd in Minsk’s downtown Kastryčnickaja Square.
The crowd chanted “Independence! Independence!” and “Long Live Belarus!,” displaying signs saying, “No to Integration!” and “This is not Integration, This is Occupation!”
On the initiative of a pro-independence group called Sviežy Viecier (Fresh Wind), hundreds of people formed a human line along Independence Avenue, Minsk’s main thoroughfare, protesting the planned implementation of the Treaty on the Formation of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
“We want to display our position on their integration plans because our opinion, the opinion of Belarusians, was not taken into account,” said Andrej Yahoraŭ, a Sviežy Viecier activist.
Mr. Sieviaryniec called on the crowd to “stand till dark.”
Many plainclothesmen could be seen at the scene, but they did not intervene.