March 20, 2 a.m. local
VICTORY SQUARE, MINSK, Belarus
If the police were going to attack or arrest the protesters who defied a ban on rallies, Victory Square would have been the perfect place.
The crowd of some 10,000 had initially gathered on another square, Oktyabrskaya, October Square, a vast, open expanse from which you could flee in many directions. Then they marched to Victory Square and the logistics looked more ominous.
The square, where a memorial column and eternal flame commemorate the soldiers who died in WWII, sits in the middle of a six-lane street and is accessible only by underground passageways. Once demonstrators crowded into the small island in the midst of heavy traffic, police could have blocked them off with a relatively small number of officers.
It looked like trouble and a lot of the marchers seemed to sense it. They had been lively and chanting on the march toward the square, but became much quieter as they neared. Thousands of them hung back on the sidewalk.
But others headed straight into the labyrinth subterranean passages and emerged on the square. A few laid flowers at the flame, others gathered around it for warmth - physical or emotional.
The square is one of Minsk's most solemn spots, a reminder of the fighting that destroyed much of the city six decades ago. It's a place to contemplate the awesome issues of sacrifice and suffering.
So much blood was shed in Minsk in the war. No one, apparently, wanted to see more flow tonight.
- By Jim Heintz
Friday, March 24, 2006
Three AP reporters have been blogging from Belarus during the presidential election and opposition protests. My mother's family is from northeastern Belarus, and a friend of mine was jailed for a week last year in Minsk on false charges.