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Belarus protesters defy ban to march against 'parasite tax'


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Reuters

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The protest took place on the 99th anniversary of the proclamation of the short-lived Belarussian People’s Republic

Thousands of people have defied a ban to protest in Belarus against a so-called “social parasites” tax on the under-employed.

Protesters shouted “fascists!” at riot police. Dozens of activists and journalists have been arrested.

There have been weeks of sporadic protests against a $230 (£185) levy on those unemployed for six months.

President Alexander Lukashenko has suspended the tax this year but insisted it would not be scrapped.

He says it instils discipline in the workshy but protesters say it punishes those who cannot find a job.

‘Beating the participants’

Organisers called the protest Freedom Day, evoking the independent Belarus that lasted just six months after the First World War, in 1918.

The march in the capital Minsk took place on the 99th anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People’s Republic.

Demonstrators tried to march down one of the major streets in Minsk, but were blocked by police who began arresting them and journalists covering the protest.

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EPA

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Reuters

“They’re beating the participants, dragging women by the hair to buses. I was able to run to a nearby courtyard,” demonstrator Alexander Ponomarev told AP news agency.

Earlier police raided the offices of human rights group Vesna and detained about 30 activists. The authorities had already jailed more than 100 opposition supporters for terms of between three and 15 days in the lead-up to the demonstration, reports said.

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EPA

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Reuters

Earlier this month Mr Lukashenko said people who worked fewer than 183 days a year would not have to pay the tax this year and said those who had already paid it last year would be compensated if they found a job.

According to a recent tax inspection, 470,000 people should have paid the tax but only 50,000 had done so, Reuters news agency said.

Mr Lukashenko has run Belarus – a country where little dissent is tolerated – since 1994.

He has been described by some Western officials as “Europe’s last dictator”.

However, Mr Lukashenko has recently been seeking to improve ties with the West and lessen the country’s dependence on Russia.



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