Chernobyl anniversary march takes place in Minsk

Up to 800 people took part in a traditional \"Charnobylski Shlyakh\" demonstration staged in downtown Minsk on Friday evening...

Up to 800 people took part in a traditional "Charnobylski Shlyakh" (Path of Chernobyl) demonstration staged in downtown Minsk on Friday evening to mark the 27th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

The demonstrators demanded that the Belarusian government abandon its plans to build a nuclear power plant in the Astravets district, Hrodna region. According to a resolution adopted at the final rally, the decision to build the nuclear plant was made in an undemocratic manner, and that preparatory work at the construction site is being done hastily and without regard for regulations.

Participants at the demonstration also called on the government to restore benefits and privileges for people affected by the accident, inform the public fully about its consequences, properly monitor radiation levels in Chernobyl-hit areas, and keep track of the concentration of radionuclides in consumer goods.

The demonstration began at 6:30 p.m. near the Kastrychnik movie theater amid heavy police presence. Riot police officers in black clothes stood in a line along Independence Avenue and Surhanava Street, while plainclothesmen walked back and forth among demonstrators and filmed everything. At about 7 p.m., the crowd started walking in a procession along Independence Avenue and Surhanava Street to Peoples’ Friendship Park in Bangalore Square for a final rally. The demonstration ended with a flower-laying ceremony at the so-called Chernobyl chapel in the area of Bangalore Square.

Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the United Civic Party who had spent several hours in police detention in Astravets, arrived just in time to join the marchers. Earlier in the day, environmental activists Iryna Sukhi, Volha Kanavalava, Vasil Semyanikhin and Kanstantsin Kirylenka were arrested after they had left Ms. Sukhi`s apartment in Minsk. They were all driven to the Pershamayski district police station. Of the organizers of the demonstration, Tatsyana Novikava, who chairs an environmental group called Ecodom, did not leave the apartment for fear of arrest.

In an interview with BelaPAN, another organizer of the demonstration, Ryhor Kastusyow, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, acknowledged that few people had turned out for the event. “The weather is fine, so people might have decided to spend Saturday and Sunday in their summer houses,” he suggested. “Or maybe they’re too lazy to get up from their sofas and come to a sanction demonstration.”

It is also possible that the problem of the Chernobyl nuclear accident has become less important in the eyes of the Belarusian public, and the organizers of Chernobyl anniversary events should change their format, Mr. Kastusyow said. “As for me, I believe that the Chernobyl problem has become even more serious lately,” he said. “I saw that for myself yesterday while touring Chernobyl-affected areas.”

The Charnobylski Shlyakh demonstration has been staged by opposition forces in Minsk every year since 1988. A crowd of up to 50,000 took part in the demonstration on the 10th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, with participants overturning cars and clashing with riot police. Dozens were injured and more than 200 were arrested. About 10,000 people took part in the demonstration on the 20th anniversary in 2006. In 2011, the Minsk city government banned a march along Surhanava Street and therefore the demonstration was limited to a rally near Bangalore Square with some 500 people in attendance. Last year’s Charnobylski Shlyakh demonstration drew up to 1000 people. No arrests were reported during the event, which had been sanctioned by the Minsk City Executive Committee.

The organizers of the last two Charnobylski Shlyakh demonstrations asked the Committee to allow the demonstrators to march on the roadway, but the requests were rejected on the grounds that they would obstruct traffic.