Category Archives: East Europe – Republic Of Belarus

Belarus election: Massive anti-gov’t rally cooked after police crackdown.

Advertisements

Opposition seeking president’s exit after disputed election calls for protests a day after hundreds of women were held.

Military trucks and vehicles have rolled into the centre of Belarus’s capital, Minsk, before a planned opposition march, as anonymous hackers leaked what they said was the personal data of more than 1,000 police officers in retaliation for a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.

The protest movement calling for the departure of longtime President Alexander Lukashenko has been holding mass rallies every week since his disputed election win on August 9.

The latest opposition protests were set to begin at 11:00 GMT on Sunday, with the opposition calling on social media for demonstrators to gather in central Minsk as well as in other cities.

Belarusian opposition news sites posted video and photos of the military convoy driving into central Minsk and bringing rolls of barbed wire with it.

Law enforcement officers detain a protester during Saturday’s opposition rally [Tut.By via Reuters]

The protest comes after riot police cracked down on peaceful female demonstrators on Saturday who had come out wearing shiny accessories for a so-called “Sparkly March”. Police dragged protesters into vans, lifting some women off their feet and carried them.

Advertisements

Belarusian interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said on Sunday morning that police had detained 415 people in Minsk, and 15 in other cities, for breaking rules on mass demonstrations. She said 385 had been released.

Chemodanova warned Belarusians they could face criminal charges for organising such protests.

The number of detentions on Saturday was far higher than at a similar protest last week, prompting the opposition’s Coordination Council to warn of a “new phase in the escalation of violence against peaceful protesters”.

Among those held was one of the most prominent faces of the protest movement, 73-year-old activist Nina Baginskaya, although she was later released.

Advertisements

Police data leaked
The aggressive police tactics prompted an opposition Telegram channel – Nexta, which has more than two million subscribers – to publish what it said was a list of the names and ranks of more than 1,000 police.

“As the arrests continue, we will continue to publish data on a massive scale,” said a statement on the messaging app on Saturday evening. “No one will remain anonymous even under a balaclava.”

Protesters have sought to expose the identity of police officers who appear at demonstrations in plain-clothes or in uniforms without insignia or name badges, trying to pull off their masks and balaclavas.

The government said it would find and punish those behind the data leak.

Advertisements

“The forces, means and technologies at the disposal of the internal affairs bodies make it possible to identify and prosecute the overwhelming majority of those guilty of leaking personal data on the Internet,” said Chemodanova.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko was officially declared the winner of last month’s polls with 80.1 percent of the vote. The opposition, however, alleges fraud and considers opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has taken shelter in Lithuania, to be the real winner.

In a video clip, Tikhanovskaya urged her fellow Belarusians to continue fighting for a country in which it is worth living in the so-called “March of Justice”.

“Every week you show yourself and the world that the Belarusian people are a force,” the 38-year-old said.

Advertisements

Tikhanovskaya is set to meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday as the EU prepares sanctions against those it blames for rigging the election and the violent crackdown on protesters.

Authorities have jailed many of Tikhanovskaya’s allies who formed the leadership of the Coordination Council, or driven them out of the country.

One of her campaign partners, Maria Kolesnikova, has been imprisoned and charged with undermining national security.

Lukashenko has dismissed opposition calls for his resignation and sought help from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who has promised law enforcement backup if needed and a $1.5bn loan.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus election: Lukashenko, in attempt for survival seek Putin’s help.

Advertisements

Russian leader agrees to $1.5bn loan with Minsk and says Belarus crisis should be resolved without foreign interference.

Russia has agreed to a $1.5bn loan with Minsk, President Vladimir Putin said at talks on Monday with Alexander Lukashenko, the embattled Belarusian leader, adding that the Belarusian people should resolve the crisis without foreign interference.

Putin, in comments broadcast on television from the talks in Russia’s Sochi, said he thought a proposal by Lukashenko to carry out constitutional reform was logical and timely.

Lukashenko arrived in Sochi to meet Putin on Monday, as protests continued across Belarus seeking the end of his rule following a disputed August 9 election.

His plane landed in the Black Sea region a day after police arrested 774 people at anti-government rallies across the country, including 500 in the capital, Minsk, the Belarusian interior ministry said. At least 100,000 protesters flooded the streets of Minsk on Sunday.

Advertisements

The meeting, in which Lukashenko thanked Putin for his support, marked the first face-to-face talks between the leaders since the contested Belarusian election.

Putin congratulated Lukashenko on his victory at the time, but later described the vote as not ideal. The Russian president’s actions have so far suggest he has no desire to see the leader of a neighbouring ex-Soviet country toppled by pressure from the streets – even if Lukashenko has often proved a prickly and difficult ally.

Protests, some featuring violence, have gripped the country for five weeks since the vote, with anti-Kremlin placards seen at some rallies

“I’m worried about Russia’s intentions to enforce its interests here. We have to be friends with Russia, but it is not good for neighbouring countries to be involved in our internal problems,” said a protester at Sunday’s rally.

Advertisements

Katsiaryna Shmatsina of the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies told Media known to Noble Reporters Media: “Lukashenko this month has exhausted all the tools he used to apply in the previous years which were used to large scale oppression towards people. People would get beaten and detained and then this would scale down protests. This time this doesnt work.”

On Monday, the UN rights council agreed to host an urgent debate on reports of violence at the hands of authorities during protests.

Lukashenko, 65, last week gave an interview to Russian journalists, including Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Kremlin-controlled channel RT, in which he warned that if his government falls, “Russia will be next”.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the Eastern European nation of 9.5 million people with an iron fist since 1994, has previously blamed the West for fomenting demonstrations in Belarus in hopes of turning it into a “bridgehead against Russia”.

Advertisements

Reporting from Minsk, NRM said: “Lukashenko has left Belarus for the first time since the political crisis has started and his bargaining position has not improved after this mass rally on Sunday. He was hoping to keep the numbers low to show to President Putin that he has everything under control which obviously didn’t work.

“He needs more support from President Putin then ever before. And Putin is willing to give him his support because Putin really wants to prevent Belarus to fall in the hands of the West and possibly NATO. But that support will come at a price.”

Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently in Lithuania, warned Putin against signing any agreement with Lukashenko.

“She said she was sorry Putin was having a dialogue with an usurper and not with the Belarusian people,” said Vaessen.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus election: 250 protesters detained.

Advertisements

Demonstrators hit the streets of the capital ahead of talks between Alexander Lukashenko and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Belarus police detained at least 250 protesters as tens of thousands demonstrated in the capital Minsk ahead of talks between strongman Alexander Lukashenko and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Security forces dressed in riot gear used barbed wire to seal off the central square in the capital.

“Some 250 people were detained in various districts of the capital,” the interior ministry said in a statement, adding those arrested were carrying flags and “offensive” placards.

Oktyabrskaya Square in central Minsk was fenced off with barbed wire with armed law enforcement forces seen behind it. Independence Square was also fenced off.

Advertisements

Demonstrators were heading towards the Palace of Independence, President Lukashenko’s residence.

“Soldiers rounded us up in several circles, people were selectively pulled out of the crowd and beaten,” one unidentified demonstrator told Reuters news agency.

Lukashenko – in power for 26 years – is facing a groundswell of public anger after declaring a landslide win at last month’s presidential election that his opponents say was rigged. Lukashenko denies these allegations.

Security forces detain demonstrators during a rally on Sunday to protest the presidential election results in Minsk [Tut.by via AFP]

‘Snatching people’

Reporting by phone from Minsk, NRM said the internet was blocked and security forces had been making it extremely hard for protesters to gather.

Advertisements

Yet, she said tens of thousands rallied in the centre of the capital, although at different locations than initially planned.

A media cameraman was briefly detained and nearly dragged into a van but escaped, Vaessen reported.

“Vans of masked policemen are driving around the city at high speed, stopping and snatching people from the street,” she said. “It is very clear that the strategy today is to clamp down on anymore moving towards the Sunday rally.”

On Saturday, at least 5,000 people marched through the city demanding the release of a jailed opposition leader in the latest in a wave of mass protests after the August 9 presidential vote.

Advertisements

Belarus’ key opposition figures have been either jailed or forced out of the country. Lukashenko will visit Russia for talks with Putin on Monday as both countries start joint military drills.

Vaessen said Lukashenko’s meeting with Putin was crucial. “He wants to show that he has these protests under control, and images of very large gatherings is not something that he wants to see today.”

She said the government and demonstrators were digging in and neither wants to compromise.

“It’s a complete stand-off. Lukashenko has repeated again and again that he is not willing to step down. People here are also not willing to stop the process because they have started something they are calling the ‘awakening of Belarus’. After so many years, 26 years of dictatorship, they have passed the point where they can accept it anymore.”

Belarus protests: Can Lukashenko survive?


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Another opposition detained by ‘men on mask’

Advertisements

Apparent detention of Maxim Znak, a lawyer and opposition group member, comes after case involving Maria Kolesnikova.

One of the last remaining members of the Belarusian opposition’s Coordination Council at large, lawyer Maxim Znak, has been detained in Minsk by masked men, according to his colleagues.

Znak’s apparent detention came a day after the most prominent opposition figure still in Belarus, Maria Kolesnikova, was detained at the Ukrainian border after she prevented authorities from expelling her by tearing up her passport and jumping out of a car.



Znak, who had worked as a lawyer for jailed presidential hopeful Viktor Babaryko, had been due to participate in a video call but did not show up, instead sending the word “masks” to the group, Babaryko’s press service said on Wednesday.

It said a witness had also seen Znak, 39, being led down the street near his offices by several men in civilian clothes and wearing masks.

Znak was one of the last two members of the Coordination Council’s governing praesidium to remain free [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

Along with Svetlana Alexievich, a 72-year-old Nobel Prize-winning author, Znak was the last of the seven members of the Council’s governing praesidium to remain free.

Advertisements

Others have been detained or forced to leave Belarus, in an intensifying crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government over a disputed election.

Previous incident
The Coordination Council was set up by the opposition forces to work towards negotiating a peaceful transfer of power after main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya rejected Lukashenko’s claim that he had been re-elected to a sixth term in an August 9 vote.

The disputed election has sparked the biggest anti-government demonstrations of Lukashenko’s 26-year rule, with tens of thousands taking to the streets for weeks to demand he resign.

Lukashenko’s security services hit back with waves of arrests, deadly violence against protesters and a campaign of intimidation and expulsion against opposition leaders.

Advertisements

Meanwhile, Lukashenko is preparing to travel to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although no date has been set yet.

Putin quickly congratulated Lukashenko on his victory last month and has offered Russia’s support.

Lukashenko gave an interview this week to Russian journalists, including Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Kremlin-controlled channel RT, in which he warned that if his government falls, “Russia will be next”.

Anti-Kremlin placards could be seen at a huge protest march in Minsk on Sunday


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Protest leader ‘abducted’

Advertisements

Unidentified people reportedly detain Maria Kolesnikova in central Minsk as police arrest demonstrators.

Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova has been abducted by unidentified individuals in central Minsk, according to the Belarusian Tut.By media outlet, citing a witness.

Masked men took her and drove off in a minivan, said Tut.By.

The development on Monday came hours after security forces arrested 633 protesters following a mass anti-government rally on Sunday, the latest since the disputed August election.

Police in Minsk said they had not arrested Kolesnikova, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Kolesnikova is the last one left in Belarus of three female politicians who joined forces before the August 9 presidential election to challenge longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko.

A vocal critic of Lukashenko, she has played an important role in the country’s post-election political crisis, which has seen weeks of mass protests and strikes by people who accuse the strongman of rigging his re-election, something he denies.

Advertisements

Before the vote, Kolesnikova teamed up with opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who later fled to Lithuania, and with Veronika Tsepkalo, who has also since left the country.

Another leading activist, Olga Kovalkova, arrived in Poland on Saturday, saying she had been told she would face arrest if she stayed in Belarus.

Tsepkalo told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media from Poland that her allies in Belarus still did not have any information on Kolesnikova’s whereabouts.

“Hopefully she will be released as soon as possible. I really worry about her,” she said.

Advertisements

Tsepkalo also said it was “not safe right now for the leaders and as you can see all the leaders are put in prison, detained or had to leave the country”.

“Lukashenko isolates the strongest leaders. During this presidential season, he has put two opposition leaders in prison. My husband is facing up to 15 years behind bars on criminal charges,” she said.

Tsikhanouskaya said the reported abduction of Kolesnikova looked like an attempt by authorities to derail the opposition’s Coordination Council and intimidate its members.

The economy
Earlier on Monday, central bank figures showed Belarus had burned through nearly one-sixth of its gold and foreign exchange reserves, or $1.4bn, in August, as it fought to prop up its rouble currency during the wave of unrest.

Advertisements

Kolesnikova had announced on August 31 that she was forming a new political party, Together, with the team of jailed opposition figure Viktor Babaryko with whom she had previously worked.

On Sunday, columns of protesters defied a government warning not to march, waving red-and-white opposition flags and shouting “go away” and “you’re a rat”.

Kolesnikova is the last of three female opposition leaders left inside Belarus [Evgeniy Maloletka/AP]

Protests also took place in major cities throughout Belarus.

Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and, buoyed by a show of support from traditional ally Russia, has rejected calls for new elections.

Advertisements

Unprecedented protests broke out when he claimed he had been re-elected with 80 percent of the vote.

Daragh McDowell, principal analyst at the global consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, said economic factors are playing a significant role in the demonstrations, with the country “rapidly running out of money”.

“The IT sector has been repeatedly undermined with the internet shutdowns to disrupt the protesters. We’ve also seen a lot of strikes in the state-owned sector as well. So the Belarussian economy is really on the brink,” McDowell told Al Jazeera.

“The people have lost their fear of Lukashenko, he’s lost a lot of his authority. No matter how many riot police he’s deployed to the streets, it just hasn’t stopped people from continuing to come out.”


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Protesters march harder over Lukashenko’s nay

Advertisements

Protests against strongman Lukashenko intensify as 100,000 take to the streets of Minsk following disputed re-election.

Tens of thousands of people marched through Minsk on Sunday calling on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to step down in mass demonstrations that showed no sign of abating nearly a month after an election his opponents say was rigged.

Columns of protesters defied a government warning not to march, waving red-and-white opposition flags and shouting “go away” and “you’re a rat”.

Protests also took place in major cities throughout Belarus, said interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova. Crowd sizes for those protests were not immediately reported, but Ales Bialiatski, head of the Viasna human rights organisation, said the demonstration in Minsk attracted more than 100,000 people.

The interior ministry said at least 100 people were arrested. Russia’s Interfax news agency reported several people were injured when police broke up a protest outside a state-run tractor factory.

Video footage shown by local media outlet TUT.BY showed women shouting “shame” at masked members of the security forces who dragged people away into detention. Troops, water cannon, armoured personnel carriers were deployed to the city centre ahead of the march.

“This sea of people cannot be stopped by military equipment, water cannons, propaganda and arrests. Most Belarusians want a peaceful change of power and we will not get tired of demanding this,” said Maria Kolesnikova, a leader of the Coordination Council set up by the opposition to try to arrange a dialogue with the 66-year-old Lukashenko about a transition of power.

Advertisements

Daragh McDowell, principal analyst at the global consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, said economic factors are playing a signifcant role in the demonstrations with the country “rapidly running out of money”.

“The IT sector has been repeatedly undermined with the internet shutdowns to disrupt the protesters. We’ve also seen a lot of strikes in the state-owned sector as well. So the Belarussian economy is really on the brink,” McDowell told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

“The people have lost their fear of Lukashenko, he’s lost a lot of his authority. No matter how many riot police he’s deployed to the streets, it just hasn’t stopped people from continuing to come out.”

‘Beatings and torture’
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and, buoyed by a show of support from traditional ally Russia, has rejected calls for new elections.

Advertisements

Unprecedented protests broke out after Lukashenko claimed re-election with 80 percent of the vote on August 9.

Opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said she won the election, but Lukashenko’s security forces have arrested thousands of protesters, many of whom accused police of beatings and torture.

Several people have died in the crackdown, but Belarusians have been demonstrating across the country for nearly a month, with more than 100,000 people flooding the streets of the capital, Minsk, for four straight weekends.

Dozens of people, including student protesters and journalists covering rallies were arrested this week.

Advertisements

The interior ministry said in a statement that 91 protesters had been detained on Saturday, and said it would beef up security and take “take all necessary measures to suppress such actions and prevent violations of public order” on Sunday.

Tikhanovskaya, who will travel to Warsaw to meet the Polish prime minister next week, said in a video address on Saturday the momentum of the protests was irreversible.

“Belarusians have already changed, they have awakened and it is impossible to push them back into the former mindset. Remember we are strong as long as we are united,” Tikhanovskaya said.

Tikhanovskaya contested the election after her blogger husband was jailed and barred from running along with several other prominent Lukashenko critics.

Advertisements

She left Belarus under pressure from authorities and took shelter in EU member Lithuania.

On Friday, Tikhanovskaya addressed a meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by video link, calling for sanctions against those responsible for the alleged electoral fraud and rights violations.

The Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have blacklisted Lukashenko and 29 high-ranking officials in his administration, but other European Union members appear reluctant to target the Belarus strongman personally.

Advertisements

In an interview published in the Financial Times on Sunday, Lithuania’s foreign minister urged the European Union to impose sanctions on Belarus and counter Russia’s influence or risk undermining the credibility of its foreign policy.

“Sometimes we react too late and our measures are fragmented and aren’t making any impression on society or the people in power,” Linas Linkevicius said.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials without waiting for the rest of the EU to act, signalling impatience with the West’s cautious approach.

Russia has said it will respond to any Western attempts to “sway the situation”, and President Vladimir Putin has raised the possibility of sending military support.

Advertisements

Putin has been eager to unify Russia and Belarus, and Moscow has accompanied its recent offers of economic and military aid with calls for tighter integration.

Lukashenko has in the past ruled out outright unification and sought to play Moscow against the West, but his options now are limited.

On Thursday, Lukashenko hosted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and replaced the chief of the KGB security service in what some analysts said might have been done under pressure from Moscow.

The embattled leader said Russia and Belarus had agreed on issues they “could not agree earlier”, and he planned to “dot all the i’s” with Putin in Moscow in the next few weeks.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Protesters hit hard on Lukashenko’s resignation.

Advertisements

Protests against strongman Alexander Lukashenko intensify as he refuses to quit following disputed re-election.

BaThousands of Belarusians have staged a peaceful new march, keeping pressure on strongman Alexander Lukashenko who has refused to quit after his disputed re-election and turned to Russia for help to stay in power.

Holding red-and-white flags and placards, protesters including many students took to the streets of the capital Minsk on Sunday despite authorities mounting a massive show of force and detaining some demonstrators.

Troops, water cannon, armoured personnel carriers and armoured reconnaissance vehicles were deployed to the city centre ahead of the march and metro stations in Minsk’s centre were closed.

Unprecedented protests broke out after Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet nation for 26 years, claimed re-election with 80 percent of the vote on August 9.

Advertisements

Opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she has won the vote but Lukashenko’s security forces have arrested thousands of protesters, many of whom accused police of beatings and torture.

Several people have died in the crackdown but Belarusians have been demonstrating across the country for nearly a month, with more than 100,000 people flooding the streets of the capital, Minsk, for three straight weekends.

Dozens of people, including student protesters and journalists covering rallies, were arrested this week.

Advertisements

On Saturday, about 4,000 people took to the streets and more than 90 people were arrested, the interior ministry said.

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice, urged supporters to turn up for Sunday’s “March of Unity” set to begin at 11:00 GMT.

“Remember we are strong as long as we are united,” she said in a short video address.

Women in Minsk hold signs as they rally against police brutality during protests to reject the presidential election results [Reuters]

Tikhanovskaya contested the election after her blogger husband was jailed and barred from running along with several other prominent Lukashenko critics.

Advertisements

She left Belarus under pressure from authorities and took shelter in EU member Lithuania.

On Friday, Tikhanovskaya addressed a meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by video link, calling for sanctions against those responsible for the alleged electoral fraud and rights violations.

The Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have blacklisted Lukashenko and 29 high-ranking officials in his administration but other European Union members appear reluctant to target the Belarus strongman personally.

Russia has said it will respond to any Western attempts to “sway the situation” and President Vladimir Putin has raised the possibility of sending military support.

Advertisements

Putin has been eager to unify Russia and Belarus, and Moscow has accompanied its recent offers of economic and military aid with calls for tighter integration.

Lukashenko has in the past ruled out outright unification and sought to play Moscow against the West but his options now are limited.

On Thursday, Lukashenko hosted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and replaced the chief of the KGB security service in what some analysts said might have been done under pressure from Moscow.

The embattled leader said Russia and Belarus had agreed on issues they “could not agree earlier” and he planned to “dot all the i’s” with Putin in Moscow in the next few weeks.


#Newsworthy…

Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania places Lukashenko of Belarus on blacklist.

Advertisements

President Lukashenko acknowledges his country’s ‘somewhat authoritarian system’, discussing plans for a referendum.


Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have blacklisted embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and 29 other high-ranking officials for alleged election fraud and a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The Baltic EU members announced their sanctions on Monday in a coordinated effort to support the protests in Belarus, which are entering a fourth week since the country’s disputed presidential election on August 9.

“We are sending the message that we need to do more than just issue statements, we must also take concrete action,” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

Lithuania has been hosting opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled there after the election her supporters say she won.

Advertisements

Tikhanovskaya will speak to the UN Security Council on Friday at Estonia’s invitation, her spokesman said.

The European Union has been working on its own list of individuals in Belarus to target with similar sanctions, but Western countries have mostly been cautious, wary of provoking an intervention from Russia.

Reacting to the three Baltic countries’ move, the Belarusian foreign ministry called the sanctions a hasty step and it would respond in an equivalent fashion, according to the Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

Advertisements

Lukashenko’s proposal
Meanwhile, Lukashenko on Monday discussed plans for a referendum on constitutional reforms, acknowledging the country’s “somewhat authoritarian system”.

Lukashenko discussed plans for a referendum on constitutional reforms [Nikolai Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP]

His proposals focused on court reforms and rejected calls by the opposition to go back to the country’s 1994 constitution that was later modified to give the president more powers.

Lukashenko has sought to downplay the protest movement and depict himself as maintaining control and order.

But he has appeared increasingly isolated and paranoid, booed by the blue-collar workers he viewed as his natural supporters and taken to wearing a bullet-proof vest to helicopter into his official residence.

Advertisements

Meeting the chairman of the Supreme Court, Lukashenko said experts were discussing changes, including more independent courts, while he said this was not needed.

“I’m ready to argue with anyone that the most independent court is in Belarus. No one should laugh.”

He said, however, the system needed to work “without being tied to a personality, including Lukashenko”.

He said members of the public would be able to “give their opinion: what they like, what they don’t,” while insisting that “those who yell about being for changes” were a minority.

Advertisements

Lukashenko, elected democratically in 1994, held a referendum on changes including constitutional reforms in 1996.

These included giving the president greater powers on appointing judges, including the chair of the Constitutional Court.

A controversial constitutional referendum was held in 2004 allowing the president to serve three terms instead of two as before.

Lukashenko said going back to the 1994 constitution as the opposition wants would not move the country forward.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Tens of thousands rally in opposition march.

Advertisements

Police detain more than 100 protesters during rally in Minsk, RIA reported, citing Russia’s interior ministry.


The situation in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, is tense as tens of thousands of Belarus protesters join an opposition rally against the controversial re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Police detained 125 protesters during Sunday’s rally, Russian news agency RIA reported, citing Russia’s interior ministry.

Independence Square in the centre of the city was sealed off with metal barriers and guarded by security forces as the Belarusian interior ministry warned citizens not to take part in Sunday’s “unauthorised” rally.

The pro-democracy movement ignored the threats and said Lukashenko should see that people were against him as he celebrates his 66th birthday on Sunday.

Advertisements

The movement added that after ruling for 26 years, his time in power was up.

Despite the presence of a heavy security force, protesters packed the centre of Minsk with crowds waving the opposition’s red and white flag and chanting “Leave”.

People walk about the Nemiga district in central Minsk as the country enters its third week of peaceful protests following the disputed August 9 presidential poll [Misha Friedman/Getty Images]

Mass protests
On the last two Sundays, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets of Belarus to protest against Lukashenko, who has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”.

The protests are the largest and most sustained challenge of Lukashenko’s years in office, during which he consistently repressed opposition and independent news media.

Advertisements

On Saturday, Belarusian authorities stripped the press accreditation of many journalists covering the anti-government protests and deported some foreign journalists.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, at least 17 journalists were stripped of their accreditation issued by the foreign ministry.

Among them were a video journalist and a photographer from Reuters news agency, two from the BBC and four from Radio Liberty.

In the past few days, other demonstrations were disbanded and people arrested, indicating the power apparatus might not allow a fresh mass demonstration.

Advertisements

Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressly promised Lukashenko support from his country’s security forces in what is seen as a ploy to intimidate the protest movement.

The head of state of the ex-Soviet republic was recently cheered by supporters at public appearances.

Since the controversial presidential election on August 9, a division between the supporters and opponents of the president has emerged.

The protests and strikes in state-owned enterprises that emerged afterwards are the largest since Belarus gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Journalists expelled

Advertisements

News organisations denounce gov’t move before planned rallies, the latest against Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.


Authorities in Belarus have deported some foreign journalists reporting in the country and withdrawn the accreditation of many Belarusian reporters covering large anti-government protests that erupted after a disputed presidential election earlier this month.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks, rejecting President Alexander Lukashenko’s landslide victory in the August 9 vote, which his opponents say was rigged. Several people have been killed and hundreds more wounded during a violent police crackdown, with thousands of protesters detained.

Ahead of another protest planned for Sunday, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said at least 17 journalists were stripped of their accreditation, which are issued by the foreign ministry. Among them were a video journalist and a photographer from Reuters news agency, two from the BBC and four from Radio Liberty.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism,” the BBC said on Saturday.

Advertisements

The Associated Press news agency also said two Moscow-based journalists who were covering the recent demonstrations in Belarus were deported to Russia on Saturday. Also, the AP’s Belarusian journalists were told by the government that their press credentials had been revoked.

“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms this blatant attack on press freedom in Belarus. AP calls on the Belarusian government to reinstate the credentials of independent journalists and allow them to continue reporting the facts of what is happening in Belarus to the world,” said Lauren Easton, the news agency’s director of media relations.

Germany’s ARD television said two of its Moscow-based journalists also were deported to Russia, a Belarusian producer faces trial on Monday and their accreditation to work in Belarus was revoked.

Advertisements

The decision was taken on the recommendation of the country’s counterterrorism unit, AFP news agency cited government spokesman Anatoly Glaz as saying.

In comments at a government meeting on July 23, Lukashenko had threatened to expel foreign journalists, accusing them of inciting protests against him before the vote.

“President Lukashenko has previously complained about foreign media’s coverage of protests in Belarus, and has cracked down on foreign media,” said NRM, reporting from Vilnius in Lithuania.

He noted that most journalists affected by Saturday’s move were Belarusians who work for foreign media organisations.

Advertisements

“If they continue to work without accreditation, they risk being arrested,” Smith said.

‘Fear and intimidation’
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania, said on Saturday she was worried about the government targeting the media.

“The only way it will attempt to cling onto power is by fear and intimidation,” she said.

Separately on Saturday, several Western embassies in Minsk issued a strongly worded statement.

Advertisements

“We condemn the disproportionate use of force and urge the Belarusian authorities to stop the violence and the threats to use military force against the country’s own citizens and release immediately and unconditionally all those unlawfully detained,” the missions of the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the European Union said in the joint statement.

“Intimidation and prosecution based on political grounds need to stop. We call on the Belarusian authorities to respect the country’s international obligations on fundamental democratic and human rights.”

The protests, some of which drew enormous crowds estimated at 200,000 or more, are the largest and most sustained challenge of Lukashenko’s 26 years in office, during which he consistently repressed opposition and independent news media.

On Saturday, hundreds of women dressed mostly in red and white – the colours of the former Belarusian flag that the opposition uses as an emblem – marched through the capital, Minsk, in a protest.

Advertisements

Dubbed by critics as “Europe’s last dictator”, Lukashenko has denounced a Western plot to bring him down and rejected the rigging allegations.

The results of the presidential election have been rejected by the European Union, which is preparing sanctions against high-ranking Belarusian officials.

Katsiaryna Shmatsina, of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, told Al Jazeera the sanctions against “individuals who are guilty of human rights violations in Belarus” is “an important step” but added that “the regime considers this the cost of doing business”.

“This won’t stop them from further intimidating the Belarusians.”


#Newsworthy…