One person was shot as Belarusian police fired live rounds at a crowd in the city of Brest near the Polish border as protests continue to engulf the country after Sunday’s election.
A group of “aggressive” young men, armed with metal rods, assaulted law enforcers in the southern city overnight, a police spokeswoman said.
The officers fired warning shots in the air but when it failed to have an effect on the attackers, they shot to kill in order to “protect their own life and health.”
One person was injured in the incident, Olga Chemodanova confirmed, without expanding on their current condition.
People were reportedly leaving flowers on a pavement marked by bloodstains that were left by the wounded on one of the central streets of Brest.
The statement appears to be the first time that Belarusian law enforcement has confirmed the use of live fire against demonstrators.
Up until now, the police have mainly relied on rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and flashbang grenades to disperse the crowds. Protestors have responded by tossing stones, Molotov cocktails and other objects at officers, and even ramming police with their cars.
Belarusian police have been blamed for using excessive force during the unrest, with numerous videos online showing officers in full riot gear beating up protesters with batons while they were already down on the ground and not resisting. Shocking footage on Tuesday showed a special forces officer threatening people with a grenade in capital Minsk.
Journalists were also assaulted and arrested, despite having all the proper credentials and wearing gear that unmistakably identified them as press.
According to the spokeswoman, more than a thousand people were detained across the country overnight. That brings the overall number of arrests since the start of protests to more than 6,000.
Some 50 demonstrators sought medical assistance following the latest night of rioting, and 14 law enforcers were also injured, with some of them requiring hospitalization. Among these were five officers who were run over by cars in various parts of the country.
Chemodanova said that 17 criminal cases have been launched against demonstrators who attacked the police.
Angry crowds took to the streets across Belarus after the results of Sunday’s election showed incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, who had been running the country since 1994, winning another term with 80 percent of the vote. His main rival and united opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who got only 10 percent, insisted that the vote was rigged and that she had been robbed of her victory.
However, she has since left for Lithuania and has urged protestors not to come out onto the streets and to protect their lives.
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