Workers from state-run industrial plants joined tens of thousands of people on a fifth day of protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, despite a violent crackdown that has prompted western nations to consider new sanctions.
- Protesters claim Alexander Lukashenko rigged Belarus’ election in which his main opponent only won 10 per cent of the vote
- Known as the “last dictator of Europe”, Mr Lukashenko has drawn criticism from the West over crackdowns
- Russia has alleged there is evidence of “foreign interference” in the demonstrations against the President
In several areas of Minsk, hundreds of women formed long “lines of solidarity”, protesting election results that extended the 26-year authoritarian rule of Mr Lukashenko and a subsequent police crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.
Many of them were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of loved ones who have been detained during protests that began shortly after Sunday’s vote that they said was rigged.
In Minsk and other cities, hundreds of workers at industrial plants also rallied against the police violence, raising the prospect of massive strikes in a new challenge to the Government.
Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in a police crackdown on demonstrators protesting the official results that said Lukashenko won 80 per cent of the vote and his top opposition challenger got only 10 per cent.
Police have broken up protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings.
Lukashenko criticised by the EU, US
The President, alleging a foreign-backed plot to destabilise the country, has dismissed the demonstrators as criminals and the unemployed.
A former Soviet collective farm manager, Mr Lukashenko is grappling to contain the biggest challenge in years to his rule of the country, which is seen by neighbouring Russia as a strategic buffer against NATO and the European Union.
“Belarusians have seen the villainous face of this government. I argued with my husband and voted for Lukashenko. And this is what I got in the end — I can’t find my relatives in prisons,” said Valentina Chailytko, 49, whose husband and son were detained in protests Sunday and has been unable to get any information on their whereabouts.
One protester died on Monday in Minsk, and hundreds of others were injured across the country.
Authorities confirmed that a detainee also died in the south-eastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death weren’t immediately clear.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the 27-nation bloc would review its relations with Belarus and consider “measures against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests and falsification of election results.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the election wasn’t free or fair and urged the Government to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters.
Russia alleges meddling in Belarus
Mr Lukashenko has sought better relations with the West amid strained relations with traditional ally Russia.
The EU partially lifted sanctions, imposed over Mr Lukashenko’s human rights record in 2016 but could introduce new measures as early as this month.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it sees “clear efforts of foreign interference” among the protests.
“We note unprecedented pressure that is being exerted by individual foreign partners on the Belarusian authorities,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
“We can see clear attempts of outside meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state to create a rift in society and destabilise the situation,” she told reporters.
Dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they were dumping their uniforms and insignia in protest and several popular anchors at Belarus’ state TV stations have quit in a show of solidarity.
The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders.
The top opposition challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, emerged on Tuesday in neighbouring Lithuania and called on her supporters to stop protests in a video that her associates said was recorded under pressure from law enforcement officials before she left.
The 37-year-old former teacher joined the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been jailed since May.