Monday 10/25/21

Belarus protesters out for fourth night despite police violence

Lithuania will relax its entry restrictions for Belarusians, as the country is gripped by protests over its disputed presidential elections and violent crackdowns by police.

An activist waves flag of the Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic during a rally in solidarity with the Belarusian opposition. More than a thousand people were detained overnight in Belarus in a third night of protests following the presidential election. Photo: Ukrinform/dpa.
An activist waves flag of the Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic during a rally in solidarity with the opposition. Photo: Ukrinform/dpa.

Protesters took to the streets of Belarus for a fourth night on Wednesday to demonstrate against alleged vote-rigging in the latest election, despite a violent crackdown by police.

Official results have put long-time President Alexander Lukashenko as the winner, with electoral authorities saying he won 80% of the vote in the weekend poll.

Multiple independent channels on Telegram showed videos of people in Minsk, Grodno, Brest and other cities calling for Lukashenko to step down and end the violence.

Support for the demonstrators appeared to be growing, as more than 100 doctors came out against the violence in Minsk.

Belarusian biathlete and four-time Olympic winner Darya Domracheva appealed to the Omon special police units to halt their violent response, in an Instagram post.

"Do not allow this unfair horror on the streets to continue," she wrote.

6,000 detentions

Lukashenko, 65, has led Belarus, a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe, between Russia and EU member state Poland, for a quarter century, tolerating little dissent.

Protesters have been calling for Lukashenko to resign, chanting "Get out!." They accuse Lukashenko of rigging the vote to win a sixth consecutive term.

Authorities throughout the country have made a total of more than 6,000 detentions over the course of the protests, which erupted on Sunday as polls closed.

On Tuesday night, police in the south-western city of Brest, near the Polish border, opened fire on a group of protesters, wounding at least one of them, the Interior Ministry said.

Police have conducted a violent crackdown on the demonstrations, with officers filmed beating protesters with truncheons.

The ministry said protesters had attacked the police and did not desist following warning shots "fired upwards," so officers decided to fire a weapon at the protesters with an "intention to wound," according to the statement.

EU condemned election

The European Union has condemned the election as "neither free nor fair" and said "state authorities deployed disproportionate and unacceptable violence causing at least one death and many injuries."

"The people of Belarus deserve better," the EU said in a statement.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert also criticized Belarus' crackdown on the protests, saying: "All those arrested in Belarus for peacefully demonstrating for their democratic rights must be released and heard."

Belarusian state media reported on Wednesday that several protest organizers had been detained.

One of the protest organizers, a resident of the capital Minsk, had rented a room on the 17th floor of the high-rise Belarus Hotel and coordinated action from there, state news agency BelTA reported.

The report could not be independently verified, and no photo or other evidence was provided to back up the claim.

Lithuania to relax entry

The official runner-up in the election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37, has travelled to safety in neighbouring Lithuania. Her husband and another top potential challenger to Lukashenko were jailed in the run-up to the vote.

Lithuania will relax its entry restrictions for Belarusians, as the country is gripped by protests over its disputed presidential elections and violent crackdowns by police.

"Belarusian citizens who are coming for humanitarian reasons can enter Lithuania," Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Wednesday, according to a radio report.

Valery Tsepkalo, a candidate who fled to Russia after a tip-off that he would be arrested in the run-up to the vote, appealed to the EU to recognize Tikhanovskaya as the Belarusian president.

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