Crowd celebrates BNR anniversary in Minsk

Up to 2,000 people attended a rally staged in front of the Kastrychnik movie theater in downtown Minsk on Friday evening on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of the proclamation of the independence of the Belarusian National Republic.

Up to 2,000 people attended a rally staged in front of the Kastrychnik movie theater in downtown Minsk on Friday evening on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of the proclamation of the independence of the Belarusian National Republic (BNR).

The city authorities had allowed demonstrators to gather at the venue for a sanctioned BNR anniversary march to a deserted park on the outskirts of the city.

The event turned into a rally as opposition leaders took turns to address the crowd and there was uncertainty among the organizers whether the march should take place.

As demonstrators waved Belarus` historically national white-red-white flags and chanted "Zhyve Belarus!" (Long Live Belarus!), Ales Lahvinets, deputy chairman of the Movement for Freedom, read out a message of greetings from Ivonka Survilla, the Canadian-based president of the BNR Rada (government in exile of the 1918 Belarusian National Republic).

The Belarusian Popular Front’s leader Alyaksey Yanukevich said that the BNR was key to the independence of present-day Belarus. "But now the independence of Belarus is in danger," he warned. "We should hold out, we should be ready to defend ourselves against threats from Moscow. The Belarusian people should become the guarantor of independence."

The United Civic Party’s chairman, Anatol Lyabedzka, lashed out at Alyaksandr Lukashenka for "taking away" Belarusians` salaries and pensions and denying Belarus the chance of joining the European Union. "Over 25 years Lukashenka has built a future for himself and his family, not for us… Only when tens of thousands of people take to the streets will change come," he said.

Opposition and small business activist Ales Makayew was greeted with applause as he took a megaphone and spoke about non-food stallholders` fight against Alyaksandr Lukashenka`s edict that paralyzed their operations.

He read out a resolution in support of stallholders and a resolution recognizing imprisoned rights defender Mikhail Zhamchuzhny as a political prisoner. The crowd appeared to support both resolutions.

Another small business activist, Ales Abramovich, said that the event had drawn those "who cherish freedom." "One has to fight for freedom. Today we see the result of this fight by our people, we have statehood, even if only formally," he said, accusing Russia of planning to annex Belarus.

A petition urging the government to declare the 25th of March a public holiday was seen being passed among and signed by demonstrators.

Police officers prevented speakers from climbing the movie theater`s front steps but did not make attempts to disperse the rally.

As Mr. Lyabedzka, told BelaPAN, the organizers of the event decided against marching along Surhanava Street to Peoples’ Friendship Park, the route that had been proposed by the city government.

However, some 1,200 people went on the route. Vital Rymashweski, Vyachaslaw Siwchyk, Alyaksey Yanukevich, Ryhor Kastusyow and Ales Lahvinets were leading the crowd, which stopped near the Riga supermarket, on the halfway to Peoples’ Friendship Park.

The crowd stayed there for a while chanting “Zhyve Belarus!” (Long Live Belarus!), “Slava Ukraini! Heroyam Slava!” (Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!) and other slogans.

Several dozen police watched but did not intervene. No arrests were reported.