Belarus at tipping point as police wall stops female protesters

Belarus

Thousands of women led the fourth successive Sunday protests in the capital Minsk against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on his 66th birthday.

Ahead of the latest protest defying an order by Lukashenko‘s government not to protest, at least 17 journalists were stripped of their accreditation, including a video journalist and a photographer from Reuters news agency, The Associated Press’ journalists, two from the BBC and four from Radio Liberty. The Associated Press also said two Moscow-based journalists covering the demonstrations in Belarus were deported to Russia on Saturday.

A huge police presence cordoned off areas such as Independence Square in Minsk, and the interior ministry reported at least 140 arrests as police cordoned off streets leading to the square, banging their shields on the ground as a warning, and then pushing demonstrators further down the road.

Women carrying balloons, flowers and red-and-white opposition flags led the tens of thousands who demonstrated against Lukashenko, widely tipped to have rigged the 9 August election and widely disliked for his lack of economic vision. Belarus was one of the most prosperous parts of the post-war Soviet Union, The Conversation reported.

Belarus
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Photo: Kremlin

Pressure is mounting on Lukashenko and he is relying on the loyalty of his security forces to keep the power he has held since 1994. Lukashenko has refused help from other Baltic nations and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is keeping a close eye on events in Belarus and telephoned Lukashenko on his birthday and reportedly invited him to visit Moscow. The European Union and the US are among those to reject the election result. The EU is preparing sanctions against Belarusan officials it accuses of rigging the result.

Lukashenko’s press secretary sent Russian media outlet RIA Novosti a picture of the president carrying a machine gun outside the Independence Palace last Sunday.

The widespread protests arose after the election that Lukashenko won in a landslide 80% majority over his main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a former teacher and the wife of a popular blogger who Lukashenko has jailed.

Belarus, dictator, Alexander Lukashenko
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is the main challenger to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who is bidding for a sixth term. Photo: Twitter

“I wish him to overcome his fears, look truth in the eye, listen to the voice of the people and go away,” said Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the election because of fears for her safety.

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