Wednesday 9/23/20
BELARUS

Belarusian opposition plans mass protest march in Minsk on Sunday

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, members of the so-called Visegrad Group, will present a proposal to the European Council that visa-free travel be introduced for Belarusian citizens.
Members of the AMAP (OMON) special police forces stand guard during a protest at the Independence Square in Minsk. Photo: Ulf Mauder/dpa.
Members of the AMAP (OMON) special police forces stand guard during a protest at the Independence Square in Minsk. Photo: Ulf Mauder/dpa.

Belarus' galvanized opposition to long-time President Alexander Lukashenko plans to conduct a protest march through central Minsk on Sunday, the independent news outlet Nexta reported.

"This march will be very significant and unusual, be prepared to move," the protest organizers wrote in a statement posted on Nexta's Telegram channel on Friday.

Last weekend, tens of thousands of people attended a protest march in Minsk that included a demonstration at Lukashenko's official residence. Some observers estimated that the crowd surpassed 100,000 people.

This Sunday's event is dedicated to jailed protest leader Maria Kalesnikava, whose supporters claim she was violently detained by unidentified masked men in central Minsk earlier this week.

Kalesnikava, 38, is a member of the praesidium of a coordination council seeking to negotiate for a peaceful transition of power in Belarus. She faces a charge of attempting to overthrow Lukashenko.

There have been protests every day in Belarus since a presidential election more than a month ago as the political opposition, as well as European Union officials, allege that Lukashenko rigged the vote to maintain his grip on power.

Kalesnikava is a close ally of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 38, who came second in the August 9 election, according to the disputed official result. Tikhanovskaya's supporters say that she actually won.

Lukashenko to Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host Lukashenko for talks in Moscow on Monday, according to comments by Putin's spokesperson.

The opening comments of their meeting will be made public, but there will be no press conference and no documents signed, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the press.

"It will be a working visit, with a discussion with President Putin," Peskov said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax, explaining that the meeting would focus on strengthening bilateral ties, including in the energy sector.

The upcoming summit was also discussed at Russia's national security council on Friday, Peskov said, adding: "There was a detailed exchange of opinions."

Lukashenko, 66, has led Belarus for a quarter century, tolerating little dissent. He has presided over a violent police crackdown on protesters in recent weeks.

Russia is Belarus' strongest ally, and Putin pledged last month to send law enforcement forces to Belarus to quash the protests if requested by Lukashenko.

EU denounced election

The EU has denounced the election as "neither free nor fair" and condemned the crackdown, describing the violence as an excessive response to mostly peaceful protesters.

At least 7,000 protesters have been detained since the election. The United Nations has received 450 reports of torture and other abuse of such detainees.

Swedish radio reported on Friday that two men - a father and his son - had applied for asylum at the Swedish embassy in Minsk, citing Sweden's ambassador to Belarus, Christina Johannesson.

In a brief video the two recorded, they said the older man was beaten by police while lying on the ground during a protest. His son dragged him away and both were gassed or sprayed with some substance, they said.

Visa-free travel proposal

Central European EU states the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, members of the so-called Visegrad Group, will present a proposal to the European Council that visa-free travel be introduced for Belarusian citizens, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday.

Speaking on behalf of the four Visegrad Group leaders who convened for a meeting in Lublin in eastern Poland, he condemned the crackdown on protesters by Belarusian authorities and called for the release of all political prisoners.

EU countries are now calling for a debate and resolution on Belarus at the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next week, saying the situation warrants urgent attention.

Meanwhile the Vatican sent its top diplomat, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, on a mission to Belarus to express Pope Francis' "attention and closeness" to the country and the local Catholic Church, according to a Holy See statement.

The archbishop, the Vatican's de facto foreign minister, is believed to be the first Western diplomat to visit Belarus since the disputed elections. He is due to stay until Tuesday, the Belarusian news agency Belta reported.

Comments