BEIJING: As Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko cracks down harder, protest groups seek support from around the world
Anti-government demonstrations erupted on Friday in the Belarusian capital Minsk in a reaction to the leader’s detention.
At least 22 people have been arrested in the violence by President Alexander Lukashenko’s security forces which has unnerved the Belarusian elite and undermined support for the ruling party.
The Belarusian branch of the European Greens and other international organisations protested on Friday, calling for the ouster of Lukashenko and upholding the freedoms of the Belarusian people.
Activists had protested in front of Lukashenko’s residence on Thursday after authorities arrested two people who had been negotiating with police to ensure the prime minister was still in power.
Lukashenko, who has been in power for 25 years, has been facing growing pressure from the public and neighbouring countries to step down.
The protests erupted on Friday as parliament met on a key vote to re-establish Belarus’ main power of veto, effectively making it the only state in the region with absolute control over its internal affairs.
The United States, European Union and neighbouring countries had been among those urging the abolition of the veto.
“We are trying to reiterate that Belarus has a right to see that the main powers of the state are politically and economically managed by parliament, and not by the single leader,” said James Morrell, the U.S. State Department deputy spokesman.“In any case, any veto by Belarusian law was being used for political reasons that were designed to delay the government’s choices.”
Western pressure and criticism of Lukashenko over the arrest of detained protesters led to his surprise decision on Wednesday to choose a lower house of parliament speaker, who would appoint himself “president and prime minister”.
Unrest in Belarus, historically linked to communism, has erupted in several towns and cities in recent months.
Since the start of July, Lukashenko has cracked down with force on protests at his home region of Zhytomyr and on other members of his entourage.
On Thursday, police forces stopped a meeting at the centre of the capital and accused critics of fraud and breaching peace.
Wearing plainclothes, officials then separated protesters and they stormed the building and chased down protesters, some of whom took off their shirts to show they were in tears.
“Despite the initiative of politicians and the general population, we have been silent,” said one of the protesters, Andrei Batynov.
“We are trying to show that we are strongly against Lukashenko, and we are not satisfied with nothing happening,” he said.
The protests have attracted a small, but vocal, following of young people across the country.
In Moscow, young people gathered in a small plaza outside Lukashenko’s residence, pledging to stage similar protests.
“The upcoming general election in November will decide whether Lukashenko will win or not,” said Mikhail Ulamenko, a 22-year-old attending the protest.
Before he became president, Lukashenko enjoyed high popularity, with support at above 80 percent. But he has been seeking an end to the long ballot-box dominance of his late father, who ruled from 1980 to 1994.
After emigrating from Russia, Lukashenko bought up the majority of the country’s western European and Russian natural gas reserves. But the price of the gas has risen sharply, hitting some of the poorest countries in the region, including the ex-Soviet republics of Moldova and Ukraine.