Women rally across Belarus as thousands arrested in post-election protests


Hundreds of women gathered in the capital of Belarus on Wednesday to protest a brutal police crackdown that left hundreds injured and thousands detained while contesting election results extending the country’s 26-year reign of authoritarian ruler .In several districts of Minsk, groups of women formed human chains, chanting “Shame! And calling for an end to the crackdown in order to soften the ruthless official response to peaceful protests. Reluctant to use force against the gatherings of women, the police dispersed them without violence.

Protesters contest the official tally showing President Alexander Lukashenko wins a sixth term with 80% of Sunday’s vote and the opposition’s main challenger with 10%. Since then, crowds have taken to the streets every night to demand a recount.

Police deployed to disperse the post-election protests used batons, stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. A protester died on Monday amid the crackdown in Minsk and dozens of people were injured.

“We are for a peaceful protest,” said Ksenia Ilyashevich, a 23-year-old computer specialist who joined other women at a protest in Minsk on Wednesday. “We showed courage and came out to come together. We are here for everyone. “

A woman holds a poster on Wednesday where a protester died amid clashes in Minsk. The poster says, “It’s my birthday today. I made a vow that no one would be killed. We are peaceful people. Enough violence, please. “(The Associated Press)

Another protester, Lyudmila Arutyunova, 29, said: “We have to support each other when the authorities beat us. ”

Belarusian human rights group Viasna said many people were afraid to seek medical help, fearing prosecution for participating in the protests.

“We have information that medical personnel are obliged to report all injuries and injuries to the police, and the doctors regard the protesters not as victims but rather as enemies of the stability of Belarus,” the lawyer said. scored by Viasna Pavel Sapelko.

In three nights of protests, at least 6,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured, according to the official tally, but even this high toll appears to downplay the scope of the crackdown. Anguished relatives were besieging prisons across Belarus in an attempt to locate their missing relatives.

Journalists arrested

Belarusian news agency Belta reported on Wednesday that police had arrested “coordinators of mass riots” in Minsk. The detained men were said to have “handled hundreds” of protesters and were accused of paying them to participate in the unrest, Belta said.

Nearly 30 journalists are among the detainees, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said on Wednesday. Three have already been sentenced to 10 to 15 days of administrative arrest, and 25 others remain in detention, awaiting their turn to face a court.

WATCH | The protests follow the contested elections in Belarus:

Protests continued in Belarus after the questionable overwhelming victory of incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko with 80% of the vote in Sunday’s national elections. Opposition leaders call the result absurd and possible only through vote rigging. 2:00

During the protests on Tuesday evening, journalists from several Belarusian and international media were beaten up. Officers seized flashcards from a group of photographers, including one for the Associated Press, as they took photos of the police crackdown.

“A deliberate hunt for journalists with independent Belarusian and foreign media has started,” said Boris Goretsky, vice-president of the association of journalists.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994, mocked the political opposition by calling it a “sheep” manipulated by foreign masters and vowed to continue to take a firm stand in the face of the protests.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko called the protesters “sheep” manipulated by foreign masters. (Lintao Zhang / Pool / Getty Images)

His main challenger, Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old former teacher and political novice, managed to unite fractured opposition groups and draw tens of thousands to his election rallies after two potential main challengers were excluded from the race. She ran for office to replace her husband, an opposition blogger who aspired to run but has been in jail since his arrest in May.

But she left for neighboring Lithuania on Tuesday in a brutal about-face, hours after submitting a formal request for a recount. In a pre-departure video that her associates said was filmed under pressure from law enforcement, she urged her supporters to end the protests.

Urgent EU meeting

Police actions this week drew heavy criticism from the European Union and the United States.

Developments in Belarus will be on the agenda for an urgent meeting of EU foreign ministers on Friday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted.

The meeting was called a day after Borrell said the 27-nation bloc would reconsider its relations with Belarus and whether to take “action against those responsible for the violence observed, the wrongful arrests and the falsification of the results of the elections ”.

A protester holds a portrait of Lukashenko during a demonstration against the preliminary election results in front of the Belarusian embassy in Moscow. (Maxim Shemetov / Reuters)

In 2016, the EU lifted most of the sanctions it imposed on Belarus in 2004 after Lukashenko, once dubbed “Europe’s last dictator in the West,” freed political prisoners and authorized protests.

This year, the economic damage caused by the coronavirus and the president’s staunch response to the pandemic – which he categorically called “psychosis” – fueled widespread anger, helping to swell the ranks of the opposition and prompting the leader Belarusian to unleash a new crackdown on dissent. .

Meanwhile, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia are ready to mediate between the Belarusian government and the opposition, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Wednesday.

First, Nauseda said, Belarusian authorities must end violence against protesters, release detained protesters and form a national council with members of civil society that would seek to find a way out of the crisis.

“If our initiative is met in a negative way, of course, the other means remain on the table – and these are sanctions, whether at European level or at national level,” Nauseda told reporters in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius .


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