Critics of Belarusian power are preparing another big march on Sunday in Minsk to denounce the fraudulent re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, days after the announcement of Western sanctions against dignitaries of his regime.
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The unprecedented protest movement, triggered by suspicions of massive fraud during the presidential election on August 9, has gathered tens of thousands of people every Sunday, despite the repression.
Telegram channel NEXTA Live, which is partly coordinating the protest and has two million subscribers, said the protest this time was dedicated to “political prisoners.”
Hundreds of demonstrators, leaders of political movements, trade unions and journalists have been arrested and jailed for organizing or participating in the protest.
Every Sunday, Belarusian authorities deploy riot forces, armored vehicles, reinforced jeeps and water cannons in Minsk in large numbers. They also limit access to mobile internet and reduce the operation of public transport to hamper mobilization.
But despite this show of force and the arrests of nearly all of the opposition’s political leaders, crowds continue to take to the streets.
In Minsk, incidents are generally few, but dozens of people are nevertheless arrested every Sunday.
Sanctions and counter-sanctions
Elsewhere in the country, where large protests are also taking place, sporadic clashes have been reported, as well as the use of tear gas or stun grenades.
Police interventions are, however, much less violent than in August, when the government used all the anti-riot arsenal to end the protest, unsuccessfully, leaving dozens of wounded and carrying out thousands of arrests.
Since then, most of the opposition leaders have been forced into exile, such as Alexander Lukashenko’s presidential competitor, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, where they have also been imprisoned, as candidate Maria Kolesnikova’s close ally.
The EU on Friday sanctioned some 40 Belarusian officials implicated in the crackdown, including the interior minister, his deputies, KGB police officials, magistrates and heads of detention centers.
Belarus announced in the wake of establishing its own list of European officials sanctioned, without revealing the names of those concerned.
Russia, Alexander Lukashenko’s main ally, has called European decisions “an admission of weakness”. She also assured that she would apply the retaliatory measures decided by Belarus.
The United States on the same day announced economic sanctions against eight Belarusian officials, including the Minister of the Interior.
For her part, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, exiled in Lithuania, is stepping up meetings with Western officials, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron this week. She is due to see Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday.
Double-edged support for a movement that insists on its popular character, while Moscow and Minsk accuse the West of fomenting unrest in Belarus and Mr. Lukashenko refuses any dialogue with opponents.
After months of Russian-Belarusian tensions, the Belarusian president appears determined to draw closer to Russia, which he accused again this summer of seeking to vassalize his country and want to overthrow it.
Mr. Lukashenko and Vladimir Poutine also showed their “confidence” Friday in a telephone interview in the “next resolution” of the post-election “problems” in Belarus.
The Belarusian president has promised a constitutional reform with a better distribution of powers, while the head of state is currently all-powerful. But no concrete proposal has been made since August.