Opposition stages Chernobyl anniversary march

Unlike in previous years, when Charnobylski Shlyakh was largely organized by the Belarusian Popular Front, this year’s event was directed by leaders of the unregistered...

Opposition activists staged a traditional annual march called Charnobylski Shlyakh (Path of Chernobyl) in Minsk on Monday evening to mark the 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, BelaPAN reports.

Unlike in previous years, when Chernobyl anniversary marches were largely organized by the Belarusian Popular Front, this year’s event was directed by leaders of the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy party.

The march, which had been sanctioned by the city government, began with a rally in the square in front of the National Academy of Sciences, the government-authorized assembly place where a crowd estimated at up to 1,500 gathered, and ended with a commemorative ceremony in front of a Chernobyl chapel with some 500 people in attendance.

Riot police surprised those coming to the assembly place by unprecedented security measures. The square was fenced off by metal railings and one had to walk through a metal detector gate to join the rally.

“The term ‘Chernobyl zone’ entered Belarusians’ vocabulary 24 years ago,” said Alyaksey Shein, a leader of the Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD) party. “By fencing the rally participants away from other people, the current Belarusian regime tries to create a new zone for active citizens, using lies and intimidation. They think that lies and false elections can help them build a powerful state. But this is a colossus with feet of clay and it will inevitably collapse.”

Such security measures will now always be taken during any street rally if the event is expected to draw more than 500 people, Alyaksandr Lastowski, head of the information and public relations office of the Minsk city police department, explained to BelaPAN. “Our purpose is to ensure the safety of Belarusian citizens irrespective of whether this is Charnobylski Shlyakh or a Victory Day celebration,” he said.

Vital Rymashewski, another co-chairman of the BCD party, announced at the rally that this year’s Charnobylski Shlyakh was giving birth to a “Committee in Defense of Life,” which would aim to protect Belarus’ residents from the radioactive consequences of the Chernobyl accident.

“The time of empty talks is over!” said Mr. Rymashewski, the BCD party’s nominee for the 2011 presidential election. “”We won’t pronounce political slogans. We just call on you to be together.”

After all speeches were over, the crowd set off along the authorized route to the so-called Chernobyl chapel some two miles away from the National Academy of Sciences.

The commemorative ceremony near the chapel ended with the singing of “Mahutny Bozha” (Oh, Lord Almighty), a Belarusian-language religious anthem.