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Hundreds of motorists in Minsk stage protest against tax on vehicle owners photos

13:16, — society

The protest began in Victory Square at about 6 p.m.

Hundreds of motorists protesting the government`s plans to impose a new tax on motor vehicle owners brought traffic to a near halt at some sections of Minsk`s main thoroughfare, Independence Avenue, on Friday evening, driving at low speeds and honking their horns for about an hour.

The protest began in Victory Square at about 6 p.m. with dozens of cars forming two bumper-to-bumper lines and heading for Kastrychnitskaya Square along Independence Avenue with their hazard flashers on. Some motorists pulled up with the hoods wide open, pretending that they needed to carry out some repairs while others cruised back and forth along the avenue.

Calls to stage a "Stop Tax!" protest appeared on social networking websites a few days ago. The Minsk city traffic police department warned motorists against participating in the protest, threatening to abort any attempts to obstruct traffic, punish offenders and impound their vehicles.

The protest took place amid a heavy presence of traffic police officers, who stopped cars at random, waved their wands to divert traffic to adjacent streets and recorded registration identifiers. Athletic men in civilian clothes were patrolling the sidewalks and filming everything on video cameras, and tow trucks were weaving among slow-moving vehicles.

In a violent incident witnessed by journalists, policemen arrested the occupants of a car that had stopped at the intersection of Independence Avenue and Yanka Kupala Street with the flashers on, creating a traffic jam. Police officers ordered the two men to start the engine and leave immediately, but they refused to obey the order. The officers then grabbed the passenger and bundled him into their vehicle. The driver got back into his seat, locked the doors and sounded his horn for several minutes, until he was pulled out to indignant cries from passers-by. The man was shoved into the police vehicle under the supervision of plainclothesmen and his car was towed away.

There was a traffic jam near the McDonalds restaurant at the intersection of Independence Avenue and Kamsamolskaya Street, where many protesters had gathered. Riot policemen in black clothes sealed off an entrance to the nearby Kastrychnitskaya subway station. The protest attracted the attention of passers-by who clapped and made victory signs.

Three people were arrested by police near Victory Square for trying to capture the traffic chaos on video. They included young opposition activist Alyaksandr Frantskevich, who was released from prison on September 3 upon completion of his three-year term.

On December 16, the House of Representatives approved the final reading of a bill that would impose the tax on motor vehicle owners, which is officially called "fee for permits for participation in road traffic."

The annual fee would be collected from all owners of motor vehicles, including both legal entities and private individuals, with only disabled people, the emergency management ministry, first-aid institutions and public transport operators to be eligible for concessions or exemptions.

The fee would range from three to 25 times the Base Rate (currently 130,000 rubels or $14) depending on the weight and type of the vehicle and on whether the owner is a private individual or a legal entity.

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