The Belarusian authorities released some 1,000 people detained in protests against the results of the presidential elections, in an attempt to quell public outrage at the brutal crackdown on peaceful mobilizations.
Around midnight, dozens of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s prisons. At dawn, volunteers also spotted at least 119 released detainees in the city of Zhodino, just northeast of the capital. There were ambulances to transport those who apparently could not walk.
Many of those released spoke of brutal beatings and other abuses by the police, and some showed their bruises. Some cried while hugging their relatives.
The releases came further after the country’s top security officer apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by the police.
“I take responsibility for what they say was violence against those people, who turned out to be close and did not back down fast enough,” Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said Thursday night.
The release came on the same day that the European Union’s foreign ministers are scheduled to meet to discuss possible sanctions on Belarus. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main rival of the president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has taken refuge in neighboring Lithuania, posted a video questioning the results of the vote and demanding that the government initiate a dialogue with the protesters.
In five days of mass protests, protesters filled the streets to dispute the results of the vote and demand the end of the authoritarian Lukashenko’s 26-year term. About 7,000 people were arrested and hundreds were injured.
The official results give Lukashenko the winner with 80% of the votes, and Tsikhanouskaya barely 10%. The police deterred the protests using stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and beatings.