By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Protests were held in several European capitals on May 29 as part of a global day of solidarity with the Belarus opposition called by exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Protesters in Warsaw were joined by the parents of Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich, who was forcibly detained in Minsk last week together with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, after a commercial jet that they were traveling in was diverted and forced to land in the Belarusian capital.
“I’m calling on all EU countries and the United States to please help us free Raman and Sofia, as well as everyone else who has been imprisoned,” Pratasevich’s mother, Natalia, told the crowd of several hundred.
The demonstrators shouted slogans against longtime Belarus strongman leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and waved the red and white flag of the Belarusian opposition.
Tsikanouskaya attended a similar demonstration in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
“We are here today to express our determination to continue the struggle for freedom. We will not back down,” she told the crowd of about 150 people.
About 100 people, mostly Belarusians, protested in the Ukrainian capital.
“A North Korea is being built step by step,” protester Syarhey Bulba said at the May 29 protest.
The day of solidarity was held to mark the first anniversary of the arrest of Tsikhanouskaya’s husband. Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a popular blogger, who had planned to run against Lukashenka in the country’s August 2020 presidential election.
Protesters in Kyiv used their shoes to strike a portrait of Lukashenka as a tribute to Tsikhanouski’s slogan, “Smash the cockroach.”
Earlier, Tskhanouskaya called for a global day of solidarity with Belarus to mark the anniversary.
She urged people to join a “global rally” on the day that marks the first anniversary of the start of nonviolent protests in Belarus and “the harshest repressions in our modern history.”
Tsikhanouskaya, who ran for president in her husband’s place and became the main opposition candidate, said politicians and the Belarusian diaspora would participate in the global rally on May 29.
“But the main thing is for Belarusians to support each other on this day in the country — by all possible means: street rallies, symbols, letters to political prisoners,” Tsikhanouskaya said on Telegram.
She urged people everywhere to hold demonstrations, join virtual events, sign petitions, write letters to political prisoners in Belarus, post on social media, and light up the facades of buildings in red and white, the colors of the Belarusian opposition.
“It’s very important to send a clear signal of support to brave Belarusian people fighting for freedom, but also to urge the dictatorial regime to end violence, stop torture, release all political prisoners, and conduct a new free and fair presidential election,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement issued by her office.
Belarus has been in political turmoil since authoritarian leader Lukashenka claimed victory in the August election, which the opposition claimed was rigged in his favor.
Authorities in the country have responded to anti-government demonstrations with a violent crackdown, detaining tens of thousands of protesters. Hundreds have been tortured, according to human rights groups, and several protesters have died as a result of police actions.
Lukashenka faces mounting pressure and new sanctions over the diversion on May 23 of a commercial flight and the arrest of Pratasevich and his girlfriend, who were taken off the flight after it landed in Minsk.
European Union foreign ministers are discussing possible economic sanctions, and the United States on May 28 said it would reimpose sanctions on nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises on June 3.
The United States is also coordinating with the EU and other partners to develop a list of targeted sanctions against key members of the Belarusian government “associated with ongoing abuses of human rights and corruption, the falsification of the 2020 election, and the events of May 23,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.