Thousands mourn Belarusian protester who died after arrest

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Mr Roman Bondarenko died last week in Minsk after police arrested him following a dispute in a city square

MINSK, BELARUS (AFP) – About 5,000 people gathered in the Belarus capital Minsk on Friday (Nov 20) for the funeral of an opposition activist who died of brain trauma after being arrested by police.

Mr Roman Bondarenko, a 31-year-old soldier, died last week in Minsk after police arrested him following a dispute in a city square that has become a regular meeting place for the opposition.

Mourners carried red and white flowers – the colours of the opposition – to a church on the outskirts of Minsk.

For more than three months, Belarus has been gripped by historic protests after a disputed presidential vote that saw strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko re-elected for a sixth term.

Protesters demand that Mr Lukashenko, 66, resign and hand over power to political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who they believe won the election.

“It is not in our power to bring back Roman, but we can try to ensure that such crimes are never repeated,” Mr Tikhanovskaya, 38, wrote on her Telegram channel from exile in EU member Lithuania.

An AFP journalist at the funeral saw people applauding and chanting, “Roma you are a hero” – using a diminutive for Roman.

They also chanted, “I am going out,” referring to the last words Mr Bondarenko wrote in a family group chat.

Mr Bondarenko was pronounced dead on Nov 12 after suffering brain damage.

Mr Lukashenko on Friday said that next week he will reveal information concerning Mr Bondarenko’s death.

“Have some patience, next week we will tell you everything. Believe me, it will be very interesting,” state news agency Belta cited Mr Lukashenko as saying.

Investigators said he had “signs of intoxication” when he was arrested by police but medical records published by independent news website Tut.by indicated no signs of alcohol in his system.

Prosecutors on Thursday launched a criminal case against a doctor of the hospital where Mr Bondarenko was treated citing the “disclosure of medical secrets” and “providing false information”.

Police have detained thousands of demonstrators who have reported torture and abuse in custody, prompting international condemnation and Western sanctions.

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