Belarus Opposition Leader Meets EU to urge sanctions

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya addresses members of parliament at the EU headquarters in Brussels on September 21, 2020. – European foreign ministers welcomed Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to Brussels as they prepare EU sanctions to support her battle against the Minsk regime. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

 

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Monday urged the EU to show courage and step up its support for her movement, as the bloc’s internal squabbles about sanctions rolled on.

The former Soviet republic has been convulsed by unprecedented demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko since he was returned to power in a disputed August 9 election and launched a brutal crackdown.

Tikhanovskaya met EU foreign ministers in Brussels and urged them to sanction Lukashenko but, despite repeated statements condemning the veteran strongman and warning of measures, after 44 days the bloc has yet to act.

“Sanctions are very important in our fight, because sanctions is part of pressure that will force the so-called authorities to start dialogue with us,” she told reporters.

“I think leaders have reasons not to push for these sanctions but at this meeting I asked just to be more brave in their decisions.”

Cyprus, which has good relations with Lukashenko’s key supporter Russia, has blocked EU agreement on measures against Belarus, insisting that sanctions against Turkey over a maritime gas drilling dispute must be agreed at the same time.

Nicosia’s position has support from some EU countries but the patience of others is wearing thin, with one diplomat on Friday saying Cyprus was effectively “shielding” Lukashenko.

As he arrived, Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides said the EU must maintain a coherent response to violations of sovereignty and human rights.

“Our reaction to any kind of violation of our core basic values and principles, cannot be a la carte. It needs to be consistent,” he said.

– ‘Sanction Lukashenko’ –

After the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters the ministers had been “really impressed by the courage and perseverance of the Belarusian people, especially Belarusian women who show a real sense of leadership”.

He said the EU would support an inclusive national dialogue in Belarus and reiterated that Brussels does not recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president.

The EU and other Western powers have rejected the result of the election, saying the poll was not free and fair, and Brussels has drawn up a list of around 40 members of Lukashenko’s regime to hit with asset freezes and travel bans.

But with ministers still deadlocked, the matter will be taken up by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, with diplomats hoping they will find a way to agree both sets of sanctions.

“We have to conclude that nothing has improved in the last weeks. The violence Lukashenko has used against peaceful demonstrators is totally unacceptable,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

“We must also address the question of whether Mr Lukashenko, who is the main responsible, should not also be sanctioned by the European Union,” he said.

The strongman, who has ruled Belarus for more than a quarter of a century, has responded to the protests with a security clampdown and turned to his longstanding ally Russia for help.

Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania for her own safety after the election, backed sanctions on Lukashenko himself, saying “of course I think it is necessary”.

And she urged the EU to make a formal call for new elections — something it has so far held off from, despite rejecting the August 9 poll as illegitimate.

The ministers are also considering what finance could be given to civil society in Belarus, after Poland called for a billion-euro stabilisation fund to help the country.

But Tikhanovskaya warned care must be taken to ensure the money does not end up in Lukashenko’s coffers, effectively funding him to carry out further repression.

Tikhanovskaya’s meeting with EU ministers, followed by an appearance at the European Parliament, is part of her effort to maintain international pressure on Lukashenko as he clings to power.

On Friday she urged the international community to respond to abuses in Belarus “in the strongest terms” in a video appearance at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that was repeatedly interrupted by the Belarusian ambassador.

AFP

Belarus Police Detain Hundreds Of Women At Protest

A woman kneels in front of law enforcement officers during a rally to protest against the presidential election results in Minsk on September 13, 2020. Belarusians have been demonstrating against the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko for a month, with more than 100,000 people flooding the streets of Minsk for four straight weekends. TUT.BY / AFP

 

Riot police on Saturday detained hundreds of women, dragging many into vans, as opposition protesters marched through the Belarusian capital Minsk demanding an end to President Alexander Lukashenko’s rule.

The women were seized by riot police in black uniforms and balaclavas as well as officers in unmarked khaki uniforms and plain-clothed officers in face masks.

Police blocked the women and began pulling them into police vans as they stood with linked hands, swiftly detaining hundreds, an AFP journalist saw. Police lifted some women off their feet in order to remove them.

Around two thousand women took part in the “Sparkly March”, wearing shiny accessories and carrying red-and-white flags of the protest movement.

The march was the latest in a series of all-women protests calling for the strongman to leave following his disputed victory in elections last month.

His opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya also claimed the victory.

Alleged police violence and torture of detainees following the elections have prompted the European Parliament to call for sanctions against Lukashenko and other members of his regime.

– Protest With ‘Woman’s Face’ –

In a statement released ahead of the march, Tikhanovskaya, who has taken refuge in Lithuania, praised the “brave women of Belarus”.

“They are marching despite being constantly menaced and put under pressure,” she said.

The marchers chanted slogans such as “Get out, you and your riot police!” and “We believe we can win!”

One of the placards read: “Our protest has a woman’s face,” a reference to the title of a popular book by the Belarusian Nobel prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, who has backed the opposition cause.

Among those detained on Saturday was Nina Baginskaya, a 73-year-old activist who has become one of the best-known faces of the protest movement, known for her plucky antics and regularly celebrated with a chant of “Nina! Nina!”.

Police took away the flag and flowers she was carrying as they pushed her into a van but released her outside a police station shortly afterwards.

 

Riot police officers detain a woman during a rally to protest against the Belarus presidential election results in Minsk on September 19, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, claimed to have defeated opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya with 80 percent of the vote in the August 9, elections. TUT.BY / AFP

 

Police detained so many protesters that they ran out of room in vans, releasing around 10 women.

Some women managed to run away and took shelter in a nearby nail bar, Tut.by news site reported.

Ambulances were called after several women became unwell during the detentions. The Belarusian Association of Journalists said that a journalist had been detained and had his nose broken.

Viasna rights group released an online list of names of 217 women detained in Minsk, saying the list was being updated.

Police have not yet given a number of detained.

The protest came as the opposition is due to hold mass demonstrations on Sunday and Tikhanovskaya will meet European Union foreign ministers and the bloc’s diplomatic chief in Brussels on Monday.

The women’s protests began in Belarus after Lukashenko’s use of extreme violence against detained demonstrators.

Women began forming human chains and marching through Minsk and other cities wearing white clothes and carrying flowers in peaceful demonstrations that police initially allowed to go ahead.

Last weekend, police violently detained several dozen at a similar women’s protest.

Lukashenko last week warned of a possible “war” with some neighbouring countries and has turned to Russia for support after refusing to step down.

UN Steps Up Pressure Over Belarus Violence

(FILES) In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

Torture allegations against Belarusian security forces during a recent crackdown on protesters must be investigated, the UN rights chief said on Monday, turning up the pressure on strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Michelle Bachelet said there were hundreds of allegations of torture or ill-treatment, including of children, stemming from the response to protests over the disputed re-election of Lukashenko as president of Belarus.

“Given their scale and number, all allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment by the security forces should be documented and investigated, with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice,” she said during the opening of the UN Human Rights Council, which has agreed to hold an urgent debate.

Unprecedented demonstrations broke out in Belarus after Lukashenko claimed to have defeated opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya with 80 percent of the vote on August 9.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, has refused to step down and has turned to neighbouring Russia for support to remain in power.

His security forces have detained thousands of protesters, many of whom have accused police of beatings and torture. Several people have died in the crackdown.

– Rare council debate –

Bachelet said there were reports of sexual violence, abductions of people associated with the opposition and targeting of journalists.

“There has been limited evidence of any steps by the authorities to address these reports,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

“Re-establishing social peace in Belarus requires far-reaching dialogue, reforms and accountability for grave human rights violations.”

The council has agreed to a European Union proposal to host a rare urgent debate on Friday over the deteriorating situation.

In presenting the request, German ambassador Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg pointed to reports of “unprecedented attacks on, and torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of peaceful protesters as well as harassment, intimidation and detentions of opposition leaders”.

“The situation on the ground clearly warrants an urgent debate. The Human Rights Council should not stay silent on this matter,” he said.

However, Belarusian ambassador Yury Ambrazevich slammed the proposal as a “manipulation of the council” that “has nothing to do with human rights”, but is merely aimed at exerting political pressure on Belarus.

Friday’s debate will mark only the sixth time in the council’s 14-year history that it has agreed to hold an urgent debate, which is a special debate agreed upon within a regular session of the council.

During its last session in June, the council held an urgent debate over racism and police brutality following unrest in the United States and beyond over George Floyd’s death.

ADP

Belarus Protesters Keep Pressure On Lukashenko With New March

A demonstrator gestures the V-sign during an opposition supporters’ rally to protest the August 9 disputed residential election results in Minsk on September 5, 2020. – Unprecedented protests demanding the resignation of the Belarusian president erupted in the wake of August 9, 2020, elections that opposition forces claim was rigged in his favour. (Photo by – / TUT.BY / AFP)

 

Belarusian protesters on Sunday prepared a new mass demonstration against strongman Alexander Lukashenko who has refused to quit after a disputed re-election and turned to Russia for help.

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

Opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she has won the vote but Lukashenko’s security forces have detained 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 detained this week.

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

– ‘Strong when united’ –

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice, urged supporters to turn up for Sunday’s “March of Unity” set to begin at 1100 GMT.

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

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

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

On Friday, Tikhanovskaya addressed a meeting of the UN Security Council 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 members of the EU bloc 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.

Putin has been keen 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 moustachioed 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.

Lukashenko made headlines when he claimed during a meeting with Mishustin that his security forces had intercepted German calls showing that Putin foe Alexei Navalny’s poisoning with a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent had been faked.

Belarusian state television broadcast the “intercept” in which a Mike in Warsaw and Nick in Berlin discuss Navalny’s materials and call Lukashenko a “tough nut to crack.”

Social media in Russia went berserk in mocking the Belarus leader and even some staunchly pro-Kremlin propagandists expressed embarassment.

Lukashenko also raised eyebrows last month when he brandished an assault rifle and had his 15-year-old son Nikolai appear next to him in a bulletproof vest while also weilding a weapon.

Some observers say Lukashenko wanted to curry favour with Moscow but was becoming a liability.

“No one knows what intercept Alexander Grigoryevich (Lukashenko) will record and publish tomorrow and where he will run with an assault rifle,” wrote Kirill Martynov, politics editor at independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

AFP

Belarus Leader Replaces Security Chiefs As Russia PM Visits

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin (L), Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (C) and Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko pose ahead of their meeting at the Independence Palace in Minsk on September 3, 2020. – Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin Mishustin arrived on September 3 for a working visit to the Belarusian capital to hold talks with the country’s authorities. Alexander Astafyev / Sputnik / AFP.

 

Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday replaced his security chiefs and said progress was being made on plans to bring Moscow and Minsk closer.

Lukashenko, who is under huge pressure from protesters to step down after last month’s disputed election, replaced the heads of the KGB security service, the security council and the state control committee.

The reshuffle was announced during the visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who became the most senior Moscow official to make a public visit to Belarus since the political crisis broke out over disputed polls on August 9.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets for weeks in unprecedented protests against Lukashenko’s 26-year rule.

The moustachioed leader has refused to quit and has instead sought support from the Kremlin.

In recent years the Kremlin has pushed for closer economic and political integration between the two ex-Soviet countries but Lukashenko has so far resisted outright unification.

On Thursday, he indicated he might be open to bringing the nations closer.

“We agreed” on issues on which Russia and Belarus “could not agree earlier,” Lukashenko told Mishustin, adding that opposition protests were a “lesson” for the two countries.

“This lesson prompted us to make relevant conclusions,” he said.

Lukashenko added he planned to “dot all the i’s on issues that are very sensitive and delicate for the two states” when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in the next few weeks.

Mishustin, who arrived with a large delegation in tow, hailed plans to tighten up ties.

“We see progress on many issues,” he told Lukashenko, adding their future “union state” will help remove “unnecessary” trade barriers.

Belarus, an ex-Soviet state sandwiched between Russia and the European Union, has for years relied on Moscow for cheap oil and loans.

The two have formed a nominal “union” with close trade and military cooperation but the Kremlin has sought deeper integration.

London-based analyst Mark Galeotti suggested that the reshuffle indicated that the replacement of KGB chief Valery Vakulchik with Ivan Tertel, who until now headed the state control committee, had been done under pressure from Moscow.

“Ex-KGB chief Vakulchik had been a fierce guardian against Moscow penetration,” he tweeted, adding Tertel had a better relationship with Russia’s FSB security service.

AFP

Belarus Police Arrest Protesters In Opposition March

Belarus’ policemen control a street as women march in central Minsk on August 29, 2020 during a demonstration against the results of the presidential election and police brutality. – Belarusian authorities on Saturday withdrew the accreditation of several foreign media journalists, including AFP, ahead of the latest demonstration challenging the results of the presidential election. (Photo by Tatyana KALINOVSKAYA / AFP)

 

Riot police and troops mounted a heavy presence in Minsk on Sunday and began detaining demonstrators as the Belarusian opposition launched another mass rally against the regime of strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Protests are now into a third week since August 9 disputed elections in which Lukashenko claimed victory, while his opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said she was the true winner after thousands flocked to campaign rallies.

Two giant rallies on August 16 and 23 have seen some 100,000 protesters gather on Minsk streets in the largest demonstrations the country has ever seen.

The Peace March started at 2pm local time (1100 GMT) on the central Independence Square.

Riot police and police vans blocked off entrances to the square and put up metal barriers ahead of the rally, while numerous police vans were parked nearby.

Columns of protesters began streaming towards the centre, carrying placards and the country’s historic red-and-white flag, many with children in tow, as cars honked horns in support.

Local media posted video of trucks carrying water cannons driving towards the rally venue.

Armed troops in balaclavas and without identifying badges also took up positions around a war memorial that has been a gathering point for marchers, blocking access.

Police fenced off another popular meeting point, October Square, while a few hundred people had gathered there, an AFP journalist saw.

The latest rally came amid a harsh crackdown on media freedoms.

– ‘Morally bankrupt’ –

On Saturday the Belarusian foreign ministry withrew accreditation for numerous journalists working for international media, including AFP, the BBC and Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe citing “counter-terrorism” grounds.

The move was condemned by Germany and the United States. Tikhanovskaya, who has fled to the safety of Lithuania, on Saturday said that this step was “another sign that this regime is morally bankrupt” and resorting to “fear and intimidation.”

Lukashenko spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly before the protest began with the Kremlin leader wishing him a happy birthday.

The Kremlin said they agreed to meet in Moscow “in the next weeks” and on their intentions to further strengthen Belarus-Russia’s alliance,” after Putin this week vowed military support for Lukashenko if needed.

Putin said Russia had prepared a reserve of law enforcement officers to deploy if the situation got “out of control.”

Reporters covering the protests have been detained and police have confiscated memory cards from photographers’ cameras.

The authorities have also shut off Internet access repeatedly, making it harder for independent media to report from the scene.

Sunday’s rally fell on Lukashenko’s 66th birthday and Telegram messengers followed by the opposition urged people to bring flowers and “creative” handmade gifts reflecting their attitude to the authoritarian leader.

On Saturday, around a thousand women marched in Minsk calling for new elections and prosecutions of police who used violence against demonstrators.

“I’m afraid but I came for freedom and for us to have rule of law,” said one participant, 32-year-old Yelena.

On Sunday, more than 360 Belarusian sports figures including several Olympic athletes signed an open letter calling for new elections to be held according to international standards and condemning police violence.

Lukashenko ordered brutal police tactics following the elections that led to the death of three men while hundreds were wounded. More than 7,000 people were detained.

AFP

EU Urges Russia Not To Intervene In Belarus

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
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

 

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.

“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.

‘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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to Rossiya 24 TV Channel at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on August 27, 2020. Mikhail Klimentyev / SPUTNIK / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to Rossiya 24 TV Channel at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on August 27, 2020. Mikhail Klimentyev / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

“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.”

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.

‘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”.

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.

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.

 

 

AFP

EU To Punish ’15 To 20′ People Over Belarus Crisis

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

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.

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.

AFP

Belarus Braces For Mass Protests As Lukashenko Orders Army To Defend Nation

Opposition supporters rally to protest against disputed presidential elections results in Minsk on August 23, 2020.
Sergei GAPON / AFP

 

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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

Belarus Opposition Urges EU To Reject Vote As Leaders Hold Emergency Talks

belarus-protesters
Belarus opposition supporters attend a demonstration in central Minsk on August 16, 2020. The Belarusian strongman, who has ruled his ex-Soviet country with an iron grip since 1994, is under increasing pressure from the streets and abroad over his claim to have won re-election on August 9, with 80 percent of the vote. Sergei GAPON / AFP

 

The exiled head of Belarus’s opposition urged European leaders to reject President Alexander Lukashenko’s “fraudulent” re-election on Wednesday as the EU held an emergency summit on the country’s political crisis.

The European Council convened to discuss the fallout from the vote that saw security services in ex-Soviet Belarus brutally disperse peaceful demonstrators demanding that their authoritarian leader resign.

Protesters gathered for a 10th night of demonstrations on Tuesday, with thousands rallying in central Minsk waving the red-and-white flags of the opposition and calling on Lukashenko to step down.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after claiming victory in the vote, called on EU leaders “not to recognise these fraudulent elections”.

“Lukashenko has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” she said in the video appeal.

As the EU meeting began, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the bloc “cannot accept the result of these elections” called for dialogue to find “a solution that reflects the vote of the people.”

Ahead of the summit, European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Lukashenko’s close ally Russia to foster talks between authorities and the opposition.

EU ministers agreed last week to draw up a list of targets for new sanctions and Germany has said even stronger penalties should be considered.

– ‘Fight for post-Soviet space’ –

The Kremlin on Wednesday described foreign interference in Belarus as “unacceptable” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned what he said were attempts from abroad to take advantage of unrest in Belarus.

“No one is making a secret of the fact that this is about geopolitics, the fight for the post-Soviet space,” he said in a televised interview.

Yet Minsk’s ties with Moscow have cooled in recent years after Lukashenko resisted Putin’s efforts to integrate the two countries. Ahead of the vote, the Belarusian leader accused the Kremlin of dispatching mercenaries to Minsk to stir unrest with the opposition.

Europe’s longest-serving leader, Lukashenko has resisted calls to resign or hold new elections. On Tuesday, he said the opposition was planning to seize power and vowed to take “adequate measures” in response.

Tikhanovskaya, a trained English teacher who said she never planned to enter politics, contested the vote after her husband was jailed and barred from running against Lukashenko.

She has vowed to hold new elections and a Coordination Council which her allies created to oversee the transfer of power was due to convene on Wednesday.

In her video to European leaders, Tikhanovskaya said the council would lead the process of a “peaceful transition of power via dialogue” and call for “new fair and democratic presidential elections with international supervision.”

Nobel Prize-winning author and outspoken Lukashenko critic Svetlana Alexievich has been named a member of the group.

Lukashenko’s claim to victory in the August 9 elections with some 80 percent of the ballot sparked the largest demonstrations in Belarus since it gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

More than 100,000 demonstrators flooded the streets of the capital Minsk last weekend as frustration against the strongman’s claim to a sixth term reached a fever pitch.

A police crackdown on peaceful protesters in the days after the vote saw nearly 7,000 demonstrators detained and sparked allegations of abuse and torture at the hands of security services.

The health ministry on Wednesday confirmed the death of a 43-year-old man in hospital after his family said he was shot while taking part in an protest. Two other people are confirmed to have died in post-election unrest.

– Pressure not to strike –

Lukashenko this week handed out awards to some 300 members his security services for “impeccable service” after rights groups and Western leaders denounced police violence.

Factory workers at state-run enterprises answered the opposition’s calls to strike in an unprecedented display of anger towards the Belarusian leader among a traditionally loyal segment of the population.

Lukashenko on Wednesday thanked workers who didn’t join the strikes and accused the West of funding the opposition. He said Western countries were levying allegations against Belarus to “distract from the problems” in their own countries.

The authorities appear to be clamping down on employees at state factories walking off the job, with police intervening in a demonstration outside the Minsk Tractor Works on Wednesday morning and arresting two protesters.

Activists on social media said the authorities were exerting enormous pressure on employees at state-run enterprises to refuse to strike, leading to a sharp drop in the numbers of protesters joining the walkouts.

Police on Wednesday also blocked the entrance to the National Academy Theatre in Minsk after staff resigned en masse to protest the forced removal of director and former culture minister Pavel Latushko, who publicly called for new elections.

AFP

Emergency EU Summit On Belarus Crisis Begins

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

EU leaders held an emergency video summit Wednesday to discuss the crisis in Belarus, as the country’s exiled opposition chief urged them to reject President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.

France, Germany and EU Council President Charles Michel have all urged Lukashenko’s close ally Russia to push for dialogue to end the crisis peacefully, after security services brutally broke up peaceful demonstrations calling for the long-ruling strongman to quit.

The EU is already working on a new round of sanctions against Belarus, targeting those involved in allegedly fixing the August 9 vote and in the bloody repression of protests, which have shaken Lukashenko’s grip on the ex-Soviet republic as never before.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that his country could intervene in the crisis and this week warned against “unacceptable” foreign interference in Belarus or pressure on its leadership.

As the meeting began, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the EU “cannot accept the result of these elections” and called for “resolute and concerted” action.

“Our message to the regime is clear: violence is unacceptable, political prisoners must be released and human rights must be respected,” he tweeted.

“Dialogue must lead to a solution that reflects the vote of the people.”

Lukashenko’s claim to victory in the election with 80 percent of the ballot sparked the largest demonstrations in Belarus since it gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after claiming victory in the vote, called on EU leaders “not to recognise these fraudulent elections”.

The summit is also expected to address fast-moving events in Mali, where a military coup to oust President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was swiftly followed by a pledge from its leaders to hold elections soon.

The EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell issued a statement late Tuesday condemning the coup and rejecting “all unconstitutional change”, saying it could not provide a lasting solution to Mali’s myriad economic, political and security problems.

AFP

Trump Says He Is Closely Following ‘Terrible Situation’ In Belarus

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event about regulatory reform on the South Lawn of the White House on July 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event about regulatory reform on the South Lawn of the White House on July 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

 

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.

 

File photo: Belarus opposition supporters attend a rally in central Minsk on August 16, 2020. The Belarusian strongman, who has ruled his ex-Soviet country with an iron grip since 1994, is under increasing pressure from the streets and abroad over his claim to have won re-election on August 9, with 80 percent of the vote. Sergei GAPON / AFP

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.

AFP