Friday, August 14, 2020

Bellicose Belarus

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the capital of Belarus for a fifth consecutive day of protests against an election they say was rigged to extend the rule of the country's longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Large groups of people formed long "lines of solidarity" in several areas of Minsk on Thursday to demonstrate against a crackdown on rallies that followed the vote.

Thousands of people have rallied all across Belarus since Sunday, demanding a recount of the ballot that gave Lukashenko a landslide victory with 80 percent of the vote, and his top opposition challenger only 10 percent.

Police moved aggressively to break up the protests with batons, stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. One protester died on Monday in Minsk, and many were injured.  One more man died in a hospital in the city of Gomel, southeastern Belarus, after being arrested by police. The Interior Ministry acknowledged that police deliberately fired on a group of protesters. About 6,000 people have been arrested this week, according to the Belarusian interior ministry. Belarus's Investigative Committee launched a criminal probe into mass rioting - a charge that implies lengthy prison terms.

However, Belarus has begun releasing hundreds of detained demonstrators who took to the streets following the disputed presidential election result, with the Interior Ministry vowing to release all the protesters by Friday morning after intense pressure from the European Union.

Lukashenko derided the political opposition as "sheep" manipulated by foreign masters and promised to continue taking a tough position on protests. "The core of these so-called protesters are people with a criminal past and currently unemployed."

No comments: