Opposition in Belarus refuses to recognise official election win by Lukashenko

Remigio Civitarese
Agosto 16, 2020

The ferocious crackdown has left hundreds injured since Sunday as police have dispersed the largely peaceful demonstrations with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings.

Prominent Belarusians including Nobel Prize-winning author Svetlana Alexievich have condemned the violence and urged Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron grip since 1994, to step down. Women, many dressed in white and carrying flowers and portraits of detained loved ones, formed human chains on Thursday as motorists honked in support.

The release by the Interior Ministry of about 2,000 of the almost 7,000 people detained was seen as another move to defuse popular outrage. However, aggression against law enforcement personnel remains high, ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova posted on her official Telegram channel.

In total, 103 law enforcement officers have been injured in clashes with protesters since August 9.

Protesters tried to block main transport arteries in the capital Minsk, causing public transport disruptions. They also patrolled residential areas, firing at vehicles and grabbing people hiding inside the entrances of blocks of flats, local media reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said the election in Belarus wasn't "free and fair" and urged the government to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters.

Ahead of the meeting of European Union foreign ministers to discuss sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for the crackdown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters the peaceful protests "reflect the dissatisfaction, the anger and the desperation" of people in Belarus and the government's crackdown was "completely unacceptable". "The core of these so-called protesters are people with a criminal past and [those who are] now unemployed", the state-run Belta news agency quoted Lukashenko as saying at a meeting with security officials Wednesday.

The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders.

In an interview published on Wednesday, Alexievich, victor of the 2015 Nobel Literature Prize for her work chronicling life under the Soviet regime, expressed outrage at the "inhumane, Satanic" actions of riot police and urged Lukashenko to go peacefully. "They hear the applause, they stop releasing people", they say. Hungary on Thursday called on the bloc "to pursue dialogue with Belarus and avoid ostracising it".

She put out another post calling on "both sides" to stay calm. Several popular presenters at Belarus's state TV stations have quit.

Western governments have criticized the violence, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday accusing Belarus of deploying "unnecessary and excessive force".

The releases come as European Union foreign ministers are due to meet to discuss possible sanctions against Belarus.

Lukashenko derided the political opposition as "sheep" manipulated by foreign masters and vowed to continue taking a tough position on protests.

"They are not worth enough to carry out any repression against them", he said.

Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Friday asked supporters to sign an online form demanding a recount of last Sunday's presidential election in which she believes she was swindled out of victory.

Almost 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in a police crackdown on demonstrators protesting the official results that said Lukashenko won 80 per cent of the vote and his top opposition challenger got only 10 per cent.

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