Police in Belarus fired tear gas at protesters and arrested dozens Sunday as the government engages in the harshest crackdown in President Aleksandr Lukashenko 17 years in office.
The arrests came as Lukashenko told a crowd on Belarus's Independence Day that there is a plot to overthrow him, but he will fight it, Al Jazeera reports.
"[Somebody] is trying to copy a 'colored revolution' scenario here," he said, referring to the uprisings in Ukraine and George that led to pro-Western governments there. "They want to bring us to our knees," he said. But "this is not going to happen."
Lukashenko took power in 1994 and has faced increased pressure recently as the country battles high inflation, the New York Times reports. The government has attempted to curtail the impact of a 36 percent devaluation of the currency with price controls on food and necessities, it states.
It has become the country's worst financial crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Opposition to the government has grown as the financial crisis worsens. The government has responded by cracking down.
As the government cracks down on protesters, demonstrators have taken to encouraging each other to skip efforts to shout slogans or hold posters and instead clap their hands in unison as a form of non-violent, silent protest.
As plainclothed police officers saw protesters begin to clap during the speech Sunday, they scooped in and detained dozens.
“The USSR has come back,’’ Tatyana Segalskaya, a 30-year-old demonstrator, told the Associated Press. “It is dictatorship in the middle of Europe. People are detained for nothing. The worse the economic concerns are, the tougher repressions become.’’
Later in the day, police fired tear gas and used force to arrest dozens more during an evening protest, Al Jazeera states.
Authorities had earlier tried to thwart the protests, largely organized online, by blocking Facebook, Twitter and a Russian social networking site, the Associated Press reports.
The United States and the European Union have imposed travel sanctions on Lukashenko and top allies over last December's crackdown on the opposition.
Read more about the flash-mob "silent protests" that have taken off in Belarus.