Following the inauguration of controversial head of state Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, authorities responded violently to renewed protests criticizing the government. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 364 people were arrested. In Minsk alone, there were 254 arrests, the authority said. According to the Wesna Human Rights Center (Spring96), protesters were also detained in Grodno, Gomel, Borissow and other cities.
However, the opposition has already announced further demonstrations. Mass protests are expected, especially on weekends, including a women’s protest march on Saturday and large demonstrations on Sunday in Minsk and other cities.
On Wednesday evening there were protests in many cities in Belarus, in which thousands of people took part. Masked men in uniform also used water cannons against the protesters. There were injuries being cared for by others. Local people said they heard gunshots in Minsk. The security forces also reportedly used tear gas. Police officers were also injured, the Interior Ministry said. The protesters had thrown stones and other objects. Prosecutor General Andrej Schwed announced sanctions for the organizers.
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The swearing-in caused a lot of criticism internationally. The EU strongly condemned the inauguration. The move directly contradicts the will of large sections of the Belarusian population, EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell said on Thursday. The “so-called inauguration” lacks any democratic legitimacy due to the falsification of election results and only deepens the political crisis in Belarus. Hundreds of people were brutally arrested during protests against the inauguration.
“The position of the European Union is clear: Belarusian citizens have the right to be represented by those defined by new inclusive, transparent and credible elections,” said Borrell. Brussels is on the side of the Belarusian people who, despite brutal repression by the authorities, continue to peacefully demonstrate for democracy and their fundamental rights. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also announced sanctions.
Critics speak of the “last dictator in Europe”
The 66-year-old Lukashenko was sworn in for the sixth time on Wednesday morning without prior notice. The population only became aware of state law when the main roads in Minsk were closed. His opponents accused the politician, who was labeled “Europe’s last dictator”, of carrying out the inauguration as a covert operation.
The EU supports the democracy movement led by former candidate Svetlana Tichanovskaya. The opposition party declared the inauguration invalid. Lukashenko had been voted out and therefore no longer had a mandate from the people to rule the country, she said.
Lukashenko had declared himself the winner in the August election, which was overshadowed by mass manipulation, with 80.1 percent of the vote – after 26 years in power. Russia had congratulated him on the victory.
The ruler sharply rejected the EU’s criticism. “We have not asked anyone to recognize or disagree with our elections, or to assess the legitimacy of the elected president,” he said during a meeting with the Chinese ambassador in Minsk. No state needs to be informed in advance of an inauguration or similar events. “It’s an internal affair for our country,” he said.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius stressed that it is not enough to condemn the actions and express outrage. “We must help the victims of oppression.” The EU must help the victims of repression. “Sanctions are not enough. Those who have committed crimes should be prosecuted and brought to justice, ”Linkevicius said in Kaunas, according to the BNS agency. “We also need to help people who are suffering today.”