Tag Archives: Belarus

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’

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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.

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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.

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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’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 protest persists despite crackdown | Video

Watch video here – Belarus elections – Noble Reporters tv

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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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…

Belarus elections: Don’t intervene – European Union urges Russia.

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The EU urged Russia on Friday not to intervene in Belarus after President Vladimir Putin vowed military support for the country’s embattled leader.

As EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin discussed the crisis, President Alexander Lukashenko — facing unprecedented protests calling for him to quit — accused the West of trying to topple him in order to weaken Moscow.

Meanwhile neighbouring Ukraine, which saw its own pro-Russian leader toppled after bloody protests in 2014, has offered refuge to Belarusians fleeing a regime crackdown.

The EU has rejected the official results of an August 9 presidential poll in Belarus, which saw Lukashenko re-elected with 80 percent of votes, and is preparing sanctions against his regime for electoral fraud and a violent crackdown on opposition protesters.

Putin on Thursday said he stood ready to send in his military to stabilise Belarus after weeks of huge demonstrations calling for Lukashenko, often dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”, to quit and hold new elections.

“I have heard many times from Russia the mantra that this is a domestic internal affair for Belarus and they do not want external interference. I suppose it’s also valid for themselves,” EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell said.

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“It is solely for the Belarusian people to determine their own future,” he added, urging Russia to “respect the wishes and democratic choices of the Belarusian people.”

French President Emmanuel Macron was blunter, telling reporters in Paris that the “worst thing would be Russian intervention” in Belarus.

There “could be no repeat of what happened in Ukraine”, Macron added.

After an uprising in 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and pro-Moscow forces declared breakaway republics in Ukrainian regions in the east.

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‘Springboard to Russia’
Putin on Thursday also called on the Minsk authorities and the opposition to “find a way out” of the crisis peacefully, but the threat of military intervention by the Kremlin has raised the spectre of the crisis on the EU’s doorstep taking a darker turn.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, renewed his claims that the West wanted to see the back of him for its own ends.

“Belarus is just a springboard to Russia, as always,” he said, according to the state news agency Belta.

“Unlike Hitler, who sent his army to Moscow, they are trying to destroy the government in place here and replace it with a new one that will ask another country for military assistance and deploy troops.”

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EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin gave their backing to a list of some 20 individuals to be hit with asset freezes and travel bans for their role in rigging the Belarus election or cracking down on demonstrators.

Borrell said the list would encompass “individuals at high political level”, but it looks unlikely to include Lukashenko himself, despite calls from some countries for him to be targeted.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas talk before a press statement on August 28, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP

‘Deeply alarming’
The EU is supporting offers by the OSCE to broker a negotiated end to the crisis and hitting Lukashenko in person is seen as counterproductive to these efforts.

The OSCE on Friday described the post-election violence in Belarus as “deeply alarming” and called on Minsk to accept its offer to support dialogue and avoid a “nightmare”.

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The current OSCE chair, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, said the sooner dialogue started “the better it is for everyone”.

Macron said Putin had told him Russia was open to OSCE mediation but Lukashenko was opposed.

“He (Putin) has to make efforts to help us in this direction,” the French president added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Belarusians seeking to enter “Ukraine in an attempt to flee the crisis” would receive entry permits from his country’s border guards.

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He said they will be given preferential treatment and be exempt from a month-long entry ban over spiking coronavirus cases.

The demonstrations that erupted in Belarus after the election and the violent police crackdown that followed have prompted comparisons with Ukraine’s pro-Western uprising in 2014.

Lukashenko’s notorious security services violently broke up peaceful protests after the vote, arresting nearly 7,000 people in a clampdown that sparked widespread allegations of torture and abuse in police custody.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring EU country Lithuania after claiming she beat the 65-year-old leader and calling for the protests.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Russian Putin pledges military support for Lukashenko.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed military support for embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday, while urging a peaceful resolution to unrest and demonstrations that erupted after a disputed election.

EU ambassadors in the capital Minsk on Thursday denounced a crackdown on the opposition in the wake of the presidential poll, in which 65-year-old Lukashenko claimed a landslide reelection with some 80 percent of the vote.

The Belarusian strongman’s relationship with Putin had soured ahead of the August 9 ballot because Minsk refused closer integration with Russia — and even claimed Moscow had sent mercenaries across the border to organise riots.

Yet Putin on Thursday promised military backing for Belarus and said Russia had set up a reserve group of law enforcement officers to deploy if the post-vote situation deteriorated.

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“It won’t be used unless the situation starts to get out of control,” Putin said, unless “extremist elements … begin setting fire to cars, houses and banks, begin seizing administrative buildings”.

But Putin also called on the authorities in Minsk and the opposition to “find a way out” of the crisis peacefully.

He conceded there were problems in Belarus, saying, “otherwise people wouldn’t take to the streets”.

The Russian leader’s calls for calm came after the European Union and ambassadors of member states in Minsk condemned a crackdown on government critics seeking new elections and Lukashenko’s resignation.

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– ‘Unacceptable’ prosecution –

The opposition created a Coordination Council to oversee the peaceful transition of power after their leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania fearing reprisals.

Lukashenko ordered a criminal probe into the opposition’s attempts to “seize power” and several of the presidium’s members have been detained or summoned for questioning.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation via teleconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on May 11, 2020. – President Vladimir Putin on May 11, 2020 said Russia’s non-working period imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus will be lifted from May 12. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

Maria Kolesnikova, an aide of Tikhanovskaya and member of the council, was summoned by investigators for questioning on Thursday. She said she invoked her right not to testify against herself.

The group’s most prominent member, Nobel Prize-winning author and outspoken government critic Svetlana Alexievich, was questioned by investigators on Wednesday and also refused to answer questions.

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Two of the presidium’s members this week were sentenced to 10 days each in police detention for organising unsanctioned rallies and disobeying law enforcement orders.

“The European diplomats emphasised that prosecution of Coordination Council members on grounds presented by the authorities is unacceptable,” a joint statement said.

EU nations have also vowed to sanction individuals they say were involved in vote-rigging and the violent crackdown on protesters.

The EU ambassadors in Minsk on Thursday said that: “Belarusians are asking for an open dialogue with their own authorities about the future of their country,” urging “a peaceful and democratic process, underpinned by independent and free media and a strong civil society”.

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– ‘Diplomatic war’ –

Lukashenko has dismissed calls to resign or host new elections, instead accusing Western countries and Russia of stirring political unrest.

The authoritarian leader on Thursday said the ex-Soviet country’s European neighbours had declared a “diplomatic war” and were meddling in Belarus’s internal affairs.

Last week he described demonstrators as “rats” in a video that showed him carrying an assault rifle, after more than 100,000 people took to the streets to demand he stand down.

His notorious security services rounded up nearly 7,000 participants in peaceful rallies that erupted in the days after the vote, and hundreds of detainees claimed they were abused by police in custody.

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Local and international rights groups have urged the UN to investigate allegations of systematic torture at the hands of security services.

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political newcomer who ran in place of her jailed husband, called for historic demonstrations and mass strikes following the election.

Workers at state-owned factories initially downed tools and joined the walk-outs in large numbers, but fewer employees have kept up participation due to pressure from the authorities, activists have said.

Industry Minister Pyotr Parkhomchik said Thursday that there were no ongoing strikes and that “all assembly lines have been restarted.”


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: European Union to punish 15 to 20

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The EU is likely to sanction between 15 and 20 individuals for their role in electoral fraud and a crackdown on protesters in Belarus, a senior official said Tuesday.

The bloc has been preparing asset freezes and travel bans over the crisis that has unfolded in the ex-Soviet republic and after an emergency video summit last week EU Council President Charles Michel said a “substantial number” of people would be targeted.

The European Union is trying to find ways to get strongman President Alexander Lukashenko to listen to the unprecedented protests that followed his hotly disputed August 9 re-election, which the bloc has rejected as not free or fair.

EU foreign ministers meeting for informal talks in Berlin on Thursday and Friday are expected to give political approval to a list of targets, before the list is formally approved soon afterwards.

Asked how many names were on the list, a senior EU official said it would likely be “something between 15 and 20”, but the final total would depend on legal verification carried out by the EU’s lawyers.

Because sanctions listings can be challenged all the way up to the European Court of Justice, the EU subjects each one to rigorous checks to make sure they are legally watertight.

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European leaders including Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all sought to persuade Russia to help bring about a peaceful conclusion to the Belarus crisis.

The senior EU official said the “very interesting tango between Russia and Belarus” in recent years, in which Lukashenko has resisted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to get him to join a political-economic union, had disrupted the Moscow-Minsk dynamic.

After drifting away from Putin, Lukashenko was now suddenly seeking his support, the official said, complicating European efforts to get Putin to encourage the Belarus leader to start talking to the opposition.

“Is Putin usefully prodding Alexander Lukashenko in the way of this dialogue? My answer has to be no — he is in a different business,” the official said.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Residents rages for fresh protests as Lukashenko makes new order.

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The emboldened opposition has called for massive demonstrations on Sunday to pressure Belarus’ authoritarian leader into resigning after more than two weeks of historic protests against his disputed re-election.

Europe’s longest-serving leader, Alexander Lukashenko, dispatched his notorious riot police to disperse spontaneous rallies that erupted after he claimed a sixth presidential term in August 9 elections that Western leaders have said were rigged.

Solidarity rallies were also scheduled in neighbouring Lithuania, where demonstrators planned to form a human chain from Vilnius to the border with Belarus, 31 years after residents of the Baltic states joined hands and linked their capital cities in a mass protest against Soviet rule.

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The EU has rejected the results of the presidential elections and this week promised to sanction Belarusians responsible for ballot fraud and a police crackdown that saw nearly 7,000 arrested and sparked gruesome allegations of torture and abuse in police custody.

Lukashenko has brushed aside the unprecedented calls to stand down, dismissed the possibility of holding a new vote and instructed his security services to quell unrest and secure the borders.

His judiciary opened a criminal investigation into the opposition’s Coordination Council that seeks new elections and the peaceful transition of power after he said opponents wanted to “seize power”.

– NATO ‘stirrings’ –
The former collective farm boss ordered his army into full combat readiness during an army inspection on Saturday near the border with the EU and warned about NATO troop “stirrings” in Europe.

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“The Fatherland is now in danger. We cannot joke,” Lukashenko said. Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nauseda in turn said Lukashenko was trying to “divert attention” from unrest at home and NATO dismissed the claims as baseless.

The unlikely leader of Belarus’s opposition, 37-year-old Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled to Vilnius fearing reprisals for claiming victory in the elections and mounting the greatest challenge to Lukashenko over his 26-year rule.

In an interview with AFP ahead of the demonstrations, she urged protesters to continue to exert pressure on the authorities saying it was “important to continue to be united in the struggle for the rights”.

– ‘Not afraid’ –
The authorities have to understand “we are not a protest movement … we are a majority and we will not step away. We are not afraid of them any more,” Tikhanovskaya told AFP.

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Opponents of Europe’s longest serving leader have organised strikes and the largest protests in the ex-Soviet country’s recent history rejecting his re-election and demanding that he stand down, with more than 100,000 people turning out in Minsk alone last weekend.

Yet fewer workers at state-run factories — usually a bastion of support for Lukashenko — have continued to strike, with activists citing pressure from the authorities.

The 65-year-old president of Belarus has threatened to shutter production lines where workers have put down their tools beginning on Monday.

Staff at state-run media outlets have also staged walkouts and Lukashenko admitted this week that journalists from Russia had been flown in to replace them.

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His powerful ally, Russia, has warned European leaders against interfering in Belarus and the Kremlin has said it would intervene in the post-election unrest if necessary.

Russia and Belarus are members of a military alliance of former Soviet countries and Lukashenko said on Saturday he had warned Russia about the situation in its ex-Soviet neighbour.

Lithuania’s foreign ministry announced Saturday that US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun will visit Lithuania and Russia next week for talks on the election fallout.

Lukashenko’ military inspection this weekend inspection came ahead of large-scale military exercises planned in the Grodno region on the border with the European Union between August 28 and 31.


#Newsworthy…

US closely following same situation in Belarus – Trump says

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President Donald Trump said Monday the United States was following events “very closely” in Belarus, the former Soviet nation where pressure has been building on strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko to step down over a disputed election.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to condemn Lukashenko’s recent election win and a violent crackdown on protesters by riot police.

Trump said it was a “terrible situation,” adding: “We will be following it very closely.”

Washington has already called for Lukashenko to open talks with civil society.

European Union leaders will hold emergency video talks on Wednesday on the crisis after Russia said it was ready to provide military help to Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years.

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On Monday, Lukashenko was confronted by workers at a state-run factory who shouted him down with chants of “Leave!” as he tried to give a speech.

Visibly angry, he walked off the stage, saying: “Thank you, I have said everything.”

More than 100,000 people took part in a “March for Freedom” in the capital Minsk on Sunday following calls from main opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya for continued demonstrations.

Lukashenko has defied calls to stand down after the August 9 election that saw him imprison his closest rivals and shun independent observers.


#Newsworthy…