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Belarus

Belarus heads to polls as protests rattle Lukashenko |NationalTribune.com

Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus for a quarter of a century [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters] Voters in Belarus head to the polls on Sunday in an election pitting President Alexander Lukashenko against a former teacher, who emerged from obscurity to lead the biggest challenge in years against the…

Belarus heads to polls as protests rattle Lukashenko |NationalTribune.com

Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus for a quarter of a century [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]
Voters in Belarus head to the polls on Sunday in an election pitting President Alexander Lukashenko against a former teacher, who emerged from obscurity to lead the biggest challenge in years against the man once dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by Washington.
The 65-year-old Lukashenko is almost certain to win a sixth consecutive term but could face a new wave of protests amid anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and his human rights record.
An ongoing crackdown on the opposition could hurt Lukashenko’s attempts to mend fences with the West, amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.
A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has ruled since 1994.
He faces a surprise rival in Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.
Her rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people have been detained in a widening crackdown.

Belarus activist challenges ‘Europe’s last dictator’ in election

Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus for a quarter of a century.
Despite an election commission ban on the opposition holding an alternative vote count, Tikhanouskaya urged her supporters to monitor polling stations.
“We are in the majority and we don’t need blood on the city streets,” she said on Saturday. “Let’s defend our right to choose together.”
Portraying himself as a guarantor of stability, Lukashenko says the opposition protesters are in cahoots with foreign backers, including a group of 33 suspected Russian mercenaries detained in July and accused of plotting “acts of terrorism”.
Analysts said their detention could be used as a pretext for a sharper crackdown after the vote.
“Lukashenko [had] made it clear that he intends to retain his power at any cost. The question remains what the price will be,” said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.
On Saturday, Tikhanouskaya’s campaign manager was detained on the eve of the tense voting.
Tikhanouskaya’s camp said Maria Moroz was detained, but it was not immediately clear on what grounds she had been held.

SOURCE:
News agencies

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Belarus

Belarus president closes western borders, puts army on high alert |NationalTribune.com

Belarus’s president, beleaguered by six weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation, has announced he is putting troops on high alert and closing the country’s borders with Poland and Lithuania. President Alexander Lukashenko’s decision on Thursday underlined his repeated claim that the wave of protests is driven by the West. He faces increasing criticism from…

Belarus president closes western borders, puts army on high alert |NationalTribune.com

Belarus’s president, beleaguered by six weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation, has announced he is putting troops on high alert and closing the country’s borders with Poland and Lithuania.
President Alexander Lukashenko’s decision on Thursday underlined his repeated claim that the wave of protests is driven by the West. He faces increasing criticism from the United States and the European Union.
Protests began after the disputed August 9 presidential election. Official results gave the authoritarian leader a sixth term in office but opponents say the results were manipulated.
“We are forced to withdraw troops from the streets, put the army on high alert and close the state border on the west, primarily with Lithuania and Poland,” Lukashenko said at a women’s forum.
Lukashenko also said Belarus’s border with Ukraine would be strengthened.
“I don’t want my country to be at war. Moreover, I don’t want Belarus and Poland, Lithuania to turn into a theatre of military operations where our issues will not be resolved,” he said.
“Therefore, today in front of this hall of the most beautiful, advanced, patriotic people I want to appeal to the peoples of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine – stop your crazy politicians, don’t let war break out!”
He did not mention neighbouring Latvia, which like Poland and Lithuania is a NATO member.

Identifying officers allegedly involved in violence
Earlier on Thursday, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main opposition candidate in the disputed presidential election, said activists are compiling a list of law enforcement officers who were allegedly involved in violence against protesters denouncing the results of the vote.
Nearly 7,000 people were detained and hundreds were brutally beaten by police during the first several days of post-election protests.
Human rights groups are working with opposition activists to identify the officers and officials, Tikhanovskaya said, adding the list will be shared with the US, the EU and Russia.
Tikhanovskaya, who left for Lithuania in the wake of the election under pressure from Belarusian authorities, said the opposition will name the list in honour of Alexander Taraikovsky, a protester who died in Minsk the day after the election as police dispersed peaceful demonstrators.
Authorities initially said an explosive device Taraikovsky intended to throw at police blew up in his hands and killed him. However, a video by The Associated Press news agency showed he was not holding any explosives when he fell to the ground, his shirt bloodied.

‘A hostage to conventional cliches’
The US and the EU have criticised the presidential election as neither free nor fair, and urged Lukashenko to start talks with the opposition – a call he has rejected.
Washington and Brussels have been pondering sanctions against Belarusian officials for alleged vote-rigging and the violent response to protests.
On Thursday, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution rejecting the official election results and saying it would not recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president once his current term expires on November 5.
Belarus’s foreign ministry responded strongly, saying: “We are disappointed that the European Parliament, positioning itself as a serious, objective and democratic structure, could not find the political will to look beyond its nose, overcome one-sidedness and not become a hostage to conventional cliches.”
Russia, Lukashenko’s main ally and sponsor, has maintained staunch support for the Belarusian leader.
Moscow announced this week it would offer a new $1.5bn loan to his government.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday during a trip to Lithuania the two countries – both Belarus’s neighbours – will continue to offer medical and material assistance to Belarusians who were hurt and persecuted during the protests.
He argued the EU and international lenders should offer at least one billion euros ($1.18bn) in economic support for Belarus and its businesses.
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Belarus

Belarus police detain 250 protesters in Minsk as crowds swell |NationalTribune.com

Belarus police violently detained hundreds of protesters as tens of thousands demonstrated in the capital Minsk in advance of talks between strongman Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Masked policemen in uniform and plain clothes seized people who gathered for the “March of Heroes” demonstration on Sunday, pushing or punching them, video posted on…

Belarus police detain 250 protesters in Minsk as crowds swell |NationalTribune.com

Belarus police violently detained hundreds of protesters as tens of thousands demonstrated in the capital Minsk in advance of talks between strongman Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Masked policemen in uniform and plain clothes seized people who gathered for the “March of Heroes” demonstration on Sunday, pushing or punching them, video posted on the Belarusian news site Tut.by showed.
Oktyabrskaya Square in central Minsk was fenced off with barbed wire with armed law enforcement forces seen behind it. Independence Square was also sealed off.
Demonstrators were heading towards the Palace of Independence, President Lukashenko’s residence.
“Soldiers rounded us up in several circles, people were selectively pulled out of the crowd and beaten,” one unidentified demonstrator told Reuters news agency.
Lukashenko – in power for 26 years – is facing a groundswell of public anger after declaring a landslide win in last month’s presidential election that his opponents say was rigged. He denies the allegations.
“I came out for freedom and I am going to protest until we win it through peaceful means,” 60-year old marcher Oleg Zimin told AFP news agency.
He said he did not vote for Lukashenko last month. “He always lied to us,” said Zimin.
The opposition urged Lukashenko not to “sell the country” ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with Putin since demonstrations began, which is set to take place in Russia on Monday.

A protester with a historical white-red-white flag of Belarus is detained on Sunday [Tut.By via Reuters]

‘Snatching people’

A vast column protesters marched through the capital chanting “Long live Belarus” and “You’re a rat,” a taunt that has frequently been used against Lukashenko during demonstrations.
They came to a halt and chanted “fascists” as hundreds of riot police with shields blocked off the road.
Police said they had detained over 400 people in Minsk alone. A Reuters witness said that detentions were continuing on Sunday evening.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting by phone from Minsk, said the internet was blocked and security forces had been making it extremely hard for protesters to gather.
Yet, she said tens of thousands rallied in the centre of the capital, although at different locations than initially planned.
An Al Jazeera cameraman was briefly detained and nearly dragged into a van but escaped, Vaessen reported.
“Vans of masked policemen are driving around the city at high speed, stopping and snatching people from the street,” she said. “It is very clear that the strategy today is to clamp down on any more moving towards the Sunday rally.”
On Saturday, at least 5,000 people marched through the city demanding the release of a jailed opposition leader in the latest wave of mass protests after the August 9 presidential vote. Key opposition figures of Belarus have been either jailed or forced out of the country.
Meeting Putin
Vaessen said Lukashenko’s meeting with Putin was crucial. “He wants to show that he has these protests under control, and images of very large gatherings are not something that he wants to see today.”
She said the government and demonstrators were digging in and neither wants to compromise.

The Belarus dilemma: Fighting Europe’s last dictatorship

“It’s a complete standoff. Lukashenko has repeated again and again that he is not willing to step down. People here are also not willing to stop the protests because they have started something they are calling the ‘awakening of Belarus’. After so many years, 26 years of dictatorship, they have passed the point where they can accept it any more.”
Peter Zalmayev from the Eurasia Democracy Initiative said the month-long mass rallies each Sunday are single-minded in their purpose, the removal of Lukashenko and his “iron-fisted rule”.
“The one goal the protesters have is to get rid of the guy and they’re doing it in a spectacularly democratic fashion with no single leader, with the leadership dispersed, and with a true popular uprising the likes of which Belarus has never witnessed,” Zalmayev told Al Jazeera.
He said the only reason Lukashenko was “hanging on” was because of the loyalty of his security forces.
On Sunday, Russia’s defence ministry said it would send paratroopers from its elite Pskov division to Belarus for the joint drills starting on Monday and running till September 25, the TASS state news agency reported.
Andrei Gorbachevsky, a 29-year-old doctor, accused Putin of treating Belarus as if it were a Russian province.
“He is supporting Lukashenko’s regime, he’s playing a strange game and that’s why our people no longer trust him,” he said.
Putin and Lukashenko are set to meet in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, with the Kremlin saying the talks will cover plans for closer integration between the neighbouring countries as well as key trade and energy projects.
Putin has been keen to unify Russia and Belarus, and Moscow has accompanied its offers of military and economic aid with calls for tighter integration.
Analysts say Putin may seek to exploit Lukashenko’s political vulnerability to wring concessions from him, but any agreements compromising Belarus’s sovereignty and independence are likely to enrage Belarusian protesters further.
“The big unknown is Vladimir Putin who has sent contradictory signals. From what we have seen, he is unwilling to contemplate a victory by a street protest, which would create a very unpleasant precedent for Russia and for Putin’s rule,” said Zalmayev.
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Belarus opposition figure ‘detained’ at Ukraine border |NationalTribune.com

Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova has been detained while trying to enter Ukraine in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to Belarusian border officials, a day after her allies said she had been grabbed off the street by masked men. The circumstances of her attempted journey to Ukraine were not immediately clear, with some…

Belarus opposition figure ‘detained’ at Ukraine border |NationalTribune.com

Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova has been detained while trying to enter Ukraine in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to Belarusian border officials, a day after her allies said she had been grabbed off the street by masked men.
The circumstances of her attempted journey to Ukraine were not immediately clear, with some media reports initially suggesting she had made it across the border, something border guards on both sides later denied.
The opposition movement on Monday had said that unidentified men had taken Kolesnikova in central Minsk and driven her off in a minivan, while two other activists disappeared later.
Those two allies successfully crossed into Ukraine in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Ukrainian border service said.
“Kolesnikova has now been detained, I can’t say concretely where she is, but she has been detained,” Anton Bychkovsky, a representative of the Belarusian border service, told Reuters by phone.
“She was detained in connection with the circumstances under which they (the group) left the territory of Belarus,” he said.
The official Belta news agency said she had been travelling with the two other activists who made it into Ukraine. Kolesnikova could not immediately be reached for comment.
Belta quoted border officials as saying the three had tried to cross the border in a BMW car about 4am on Tuesday, and said Kolesnikova’s car had accelerated sharply after being confronted by a border guard.
“Kolesnikova was outside the vehicle. In fact, she was pushed from it and it continued moving towards the Ukrainian side,” Belta quoted the border service as saying.
According to the Interfax Ukraine news agency, Kolesnikova ripped up her passport to thwart an attempt to deport her to neighbouring Ukraine.
Deputy Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook that Kolesnikova, who had been missing for the past 24 hours, had successfully prevented “a forcible expulsion from her native country”.
Belarusian journalist Andrei Vaitovich told Al Jazeera that because Kolesnikova ripped up her passport, this “proves once again that this departure wasn’t voluntary”.
He said: “She didn’t [want] to leave the country. She told me a couple of days ago she will stay here, until the end. Today, what we saw once again proves that the Belarusian authorities just tried to kick out from the country the main opposition figures so they can’t lead the protest.”
Lukashenko critic
Police in Minsk were cited by Russia’s Interfax news agency as saying on Monday that they had not arrested Kolesnikova.
Kolesnikova, a member of the opposition coordination council, was the last of three female politicians left in Belarus who joined forces before an August 9 presidential election to try to challenge veteran incumbent Alexander Lukashenko.
A vocal critic of Lukashenko, she has played an important role in weeks of mass demonstrations and strikes by protesters who accuse Lukashenko of rigging his re-election.
Lukashenko, who has been in power for the last 26 years, denies that allegation and has accused foreign powers of trying to topple him in a revolution. He has responded with a crackdown which some of those detained say includes torture and beatings.
Lukashenko on Tuesday said he would not step down, despite the wave of protests, but did not rule out early presidential elections during an interview with Russian media, a radio journalist reported.
Lukashenko said his supporters would be attacked if he left, said Roman Babayan, editor in chief of the Moscow Talks radio station.
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