Sunday 9/27/20

Lukashenko blames foreign countries for Belarus protests

He had recently described the demonstrators as unemployed ex-criminals, only stirring up public outrage.

EU prepares sanctions against Belarus as protests continue.

People take part in a demonstration outside the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in Kiev. Photo: Ukrinform/dpa.
People take part in a demonstration outside the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in Kiev. Photo: Ukrinform/dpa.

President Alexander Lukashenko has once again blamed foreign countries for the mass post-election protests in Belarus, claiming without evidence that participants came from the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine, state news agency Belta reports.

In an address late on Friday, the 65-year-old, who has been in power for a quarter of a century, warned his fellow countrymen against taking part in the protests.

He doubled down on his claim that criminals are manning the front lines and they wanted to use Belarusian children as "cannon fodder."

He had recently described the demonstrators as unemployed ex-criminals, only stirring up public outrage.

Lukashenko did not mention the violence originating from security forces. Videos on social networks have repeatedly shown police brutally beating peaceful demonstrators.

EU sanctions

The European Union is preparing sanctions against officials in Belarus who are responsible for the bloody post-election crackdown on protesters, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said.

The green light was given by the 27 EU foreign affairs ministers during a videoconference on Friday. The individuals to be sanctioned include those responsible for police violence and election fraud.

Thousands of protesters who decried last weekend's election in the Eastern European country as rigged have recently been arrested, sparking international outrage.

While many of them have since been released, numerous protesters spoke of mistreatment during their arrest and imprisonment.

On Friday evening, tens of thousands of people once again peacefully rallied in the capital Minsk's main Independence Square. Images showed soldiers lowering their shields in solidarity and women offering the troops flowers.

After the rally, thousands of demonstrators continued into the city centre, many of them holding up the lights of their cellphones.

According to observers in Belarus, the police showed restraint in dealing with the protesters.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the time was not yet ripe for economic sanctions, in comments via her spokesperson to Welt am Sonntag newspaper, made available on Saturday.

She said that economic sanctions would harm ordinary people, and that sanctions against certain politicians and government representatives would worsen the chances of the EU, but also of Belarusian opposition, to enter into dialogue with the authorities.

'Keep up the pressure'

Earlier on Friday, Tikhanovskaya called for protesters to keep up the pressure.

Tikhanovskaya, who left Belarus after unsuccessfully challenging long-time President Alexander Lukashenko in Sunday's election, called for the mayors of cities throughout the country to allow protesters to rally peacefully this upcoming weekend.

Calling for peaceful protests on both Saturday and Sunday, Tikhanovskaya, who placed second in the election according to the widely disputed official tally, said that Belarusians must stand up for their democratic rights.

EU member state Lithuania, which borders Belarus, has said Tikhanovskaya came to safety in that country earlier this week.

'Neither free nor fair'

Protests throughout Belarus erupted following Sunday's election, with electoral authorities saying Lukashenko had received about 80 per cent of the vote, a claim that many have disputed as a fabrication. They have continued every day since.

The EU has described the election as "neither free nor fair" and condemned the police crackdown on protesters as "disproportionate and unacceptable", according to a statement by the European Council.

The pressure on Lukashenko has been further increased by workers striking in numerous state-owned companies throughout the country.

Lukashenko, 65, has led the former Soviet republic for a quarter of a century, tolerating little dissent.

The Czech Republic, Poland and Lithuania, former Eastern Bloc states, have led the calls for EU action on Belarus.

"We cannot wait. The Belarusian people need our immediate help," Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said in a statement on Twitter.

About 2,000 of the 7,000 people detained during protests have been released, according to Interior Ministry statistics published by state media.