MINSK, Belarus — Thousands of people, many waving red-and-white Belarussian flags, marched through the capital's downtown Sunday to demand continued independence and protest government moves to rejoin Moscow.
At one point, demonstrators shouting antigovernment slogans broke through a police cordon. Scuffles broke out between police using tear gas and batons and marchers who pelted police with snowballs and chunks of ice.
"Long live Belarus!" the marchers chanted as they strode down Minsk's main avenue to Belarus' sole television station, which is state-run. Police standing shoulder to shoulder prevented the crowd from entering the station, and it eventually broke up.
The demonstration, called by the opposition Belarusan Popular Front-Revival, came a day after President Alexander G. Lukashenko announced that Belarus would form a political and economic union with Russia.
Popular Front leader Zenon Poznyak said he and other nationalists are afraid the pro-Russian Lukashenko will eventually cede Belarus' sovereignty.
"It's a huge bluff dreamed up by the two presidents, each pursuing his own interests," Vasil Bykov, a prominent writer, told Russia's NTV network. He accused Lukashenko of "complete capitulation" to Moscow and said Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin agreed to union as a political ploy.
The new union treaty is to be signed April 2.