Belarus: Demonstrators attempt to storm government building

THOUSANDS of opposition supporters in Belarus tried to storm the main government building to protest against what they claim was large-scale vote-rigging in Sunday’s presidential election.

They were driven back by riot police, with dozens of protesters injured in the clashes after being beaten with clubs.

Up to 40,000 opposition activists rallied in central Minsk to call for long-time authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko to step down. It was the largest opposition rally since mass street protests against Mr Lukashenko in 1996.

Protesters broke windows and glass doors, but were pushed back by riot police waiting inside the building, which also houses the Central Election Commission.

Hundreds more riot police and Interior Ministry troops then arrived in trucks and sent most of the demonstrators fleeing.

Some tried to hide in the courtyards of nearby apartment buildings, but were bludgeoned by troops waiting inside the courtyards.

By late Sunday, troops had surrounded about 2,000 protesters remaining in Independence Square.

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Few had expected tens of thousands to join the election night protest, which Mr Lukashenko had made clear would be dispersed by force.

The question remained whether the opposition had the momentum to maintain pressure on Mr Lukashenko or whether Sunday’s violence would effectively put an end to the opposition’s hopes.