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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 18:43 GMT
Belarus protests: Demonstrators' views
A protester holds a banned Belarusian flag during a rally in Minsk
Protesters have been turning out all week in Minsk
EU and US sanctions are being imposed against Belarus over a disputed election and the mass arrest of protesters in the main square of the capital, Minsk.

Many of those involved in the demonstrations have told the BBC News website that they are too afraid to talk.

But two who were out demonstrating all week gave their reaction to Friday's arrests and described the current situation there.

ALEXEI, MINSK, BELARUS

I feel really terrible about what happened to these protesters early this morning. I was shocked when I heard about it.

I have been out protesting in that square with my friends all week, along with thousands of others, and it has been mainly peaceful.

Last night we left at about 2200 (local time) and there was no evidence that these arrests were being planned.

However we had expected something like this to happen all week, as there had been more arrests throughout the week and the intimidation by the police has been increasing.

Belarusian police inspect a man's bag near opposition protests in Minsk
There has been an increasing police presence in the centre of the capital
At the beginning of the week, people were being searched near the square to make sure they weren't bringing food or hot drink to the protesters camped out in the square.

My wife's bag was searched and they made her take a different route to the square.

By the end of the week they were arresting people for doing this. A friend of mine was arrested and was given a 15-day sentence.

They obviously removed the people from the square this morning to break up the protests altogether.

But there is another rumour here. There is an awards ceremony for journalists working for state-controlled TV on Friday night in a building right on the square and obviously they wanted to get rid of all the 'drunken teenagers', as they have been reporting the protesters to be all week.

The symbolism was too dangerous for them, it seems.

This is what has been so wrong about the coverage by the state-controlled media.

As this week has gone on, I have realised I have nothing to lose
They say they are all just drunken teenagers out to cause trouble. But this is not true. The organisers of the protests have repeatedly told people that they are not to drink during the protests.

Anyone who was drunk at the protests was told to leave by others.

I have not been down to the square yet today. I will find it hard to, but I will make sure that I do go there tonight.

I refuse to be afraid. If you are afraid now, you'll be afraid for the rest of your life.

That's why this is such an important time for us. I don't want the authorities to stop this movement. We must force a change.

People are using the internet constantly to keep up the movement and organise ourselves.

I was worried when the election took place. We were told by the authorities that we would be treated as terrorists, arrested and given long sentences.

But as this week has gone on, I have realised I have nothing to lose. If you don't do anything, you risk remaining in a police state.

Of course I'm afraid of being arrested, but I have to do something.

There is a big march planned for tomorrow - I'm not sure what's going to happen to us.

RUSLANA, MINSK, BELARUS

Some colleagues from my office were detained this morning in the arrests, as were some friends of my family. As yet there is no word from any of them.

My friends and I have been taking part in meetings every evening after work.

Many people have been attending them. I believe I saw at least 4,000 people every time I was there.

Police officers detain protesters in the opposition tent camp in Minsk early on Friday morning
Police moved into the tent camp early on Friday morning
Official TV reports here have said there were only small numbers of demonstrators and stated they were all young people. This is not the case.

Since Tuesday, people between from the ages of 35 to 40 were the dominant age group among protesters.

I didn't see fear on people's faces. But I did feel solidarity. The horrible weather and frost prevented many people from staying there overnight.

I myself could hardly stay there for more then two hours. It was so cold.

We also brought food and other necessary things for people in camps. I was not detained but now I realise how lucky I was. Many people whose bags were searched were arrested.

Day by day the meetings have been more organised. There were more speeches being made.

There's been a big change in the minds of those who were previously afraid of speaking out
We have realised as they have gone on that we have a real chance to change something in this country. You can feel it in the air. There were plenty of cars passing by the square who were signalling to us.

We will continue to protest. I and many people of different ages will be at the big protest organised for Saturday.

Authorities are warning us about arrests. But I believe my fellow protesters are not afraid at all. I'm expecting many people to be there.

Many Belarussians still believe in what is reported on official TV and radio. But, there's been a big change in the minds of those who were previously afraid of speaking out and frustrated about the impossibility of change.

We feel support from abroad. I do hope it's going to be like this tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and beyond.

Political sanctions are important but I don't think they will be very effective.

Economic sanctions would be real threat for the regime but it's an unbearable burden for Belarussians.

As for what happens beyond today, things will turn more violent, this is for sure. But people will get more confident that change is possible. This makes us less vulnerable to the threats made against us.





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