Belarus opposition to march after police crackdown

Marco Green
September 21, 2020

Protests began on August 9, after Lukashenko won his sixth term in office in an election opposition supporters and many European governments believe was rigged.

Although Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikanouskaya called for a so-called fearless response against President Alexander Lukashenko, EU foreign ministers failed to agree on sanctions because of a Cypriot veto.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics condemned the actions by Cyprus in a tweet, saying that it "sends a wrong signal to Belarusians, our societies and the whole world".

Footage shared by Belarusian media outlets showed police dragging people from the front of a column of protesters who had linked arms in Brest, and firing spray from a bottle into the face of one of them.

European Union foreign ministers on Monday were weighing whether to impose sanctions on dozens of Belarus officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, after holding talks with his exiled main opponent.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko was officially declared the victor of last month's polls with 80.1 percent of the vote.

"She gave us an account of the events in Belarus", EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters, after a breakfast meeting with Tikhanovskaya and the ministers.

"We did a lot to manage with this situation by ourselves, with only the strength of the Belarusian people, but now I understand that we need exterior help", she said, speaking in English.

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. "The violence Lukashenko has used against peaceful demonstrators is totally unacceptable", Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Tsikanouskaya was forced to flee Belarus for her own safety after the election.

"Belarus needs fast and resolute decisions", Tsikhanouskaya said.

Lukashenko has dismissed opposition calls for his resignation and sought help from Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who has promised law enforcement backup if needed and a $1.5bn loan.

As a result of a vote at the meeting, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on the Belarusian authorities to enter into dialogue with the political opposition and allow for freedom of assembly and expression.

At the same time as the Vatican official's visit to Belarus, Lukashenko was in Russian Federation visiting President Vladimir Putin, his closest global ally, who offered him a $1.5 billion loan.

Cyprus, which has good relations with the Lukashenko-supporting Russian government, had wanted the sanctions to be tied to sanctions against Turkey due to a dispute over gas drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.

"The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine underscored the importance of monitoring the situation in Belarus with the involvement of worldwide human rights mechanisms and called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council to continue such monitoring in a timely and comprehensive manner".

The sanctions look set to be passed up to European Union heads of state and government who meet for a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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