MINSK, BELARUS (AP) - The authoritarian government of Belarus blocked access to popular social networking sites on Sunday in an attempt to prevent opposition protests on a national holiday.
The respected rights group Vesna said the government also detained dozens of activists, including Stanislav Shushkevich, Belarus’ first post-Soviet leader. Many other activists were called in by the KGB and warned not to protest, Vesna spokesman Valentin Stefanovich said.
The government is trying to contain swelling public discontent as Belarus suffers its worst financial crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.
President Alexander Lukashenko said Sunday that “an escalation of information intervention is under way” as part of plans drawn up in “the capitals of separate countries” to bring about a popular revolution.
“We understand that the goal of these attacks is to sow uncertainty and alarm, to destroy social harmony, and in the end to bring us to our knees and bring to naught our hardwon independence,” Lukashenko said in opening a military parade on Independence Day, the anniversary of the end of Nazi occupation in 1944.
Russia has been pushing for greater control over the Belarusian economy in exchange for loans to help Lukashenko’s government weather the financial turmoil.
For the first time, Russian troops took part in the annual military parade. Russian state television, which broadcasts in Belarus, has supported the Belarusian protesters by showing their rough treatment at the hands of police.
The opposition has held a series of Internet-organized rallies it calls “Revolution by Social Networks.” The protesters carry no signs and walk silently through the streets clapping in unison.
Eager to avoid protests on the national holiday, the government on Saturday began blocking access to the social media sites used to organize the activists.
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