Entering its third week, the agitation against Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election has hit a groundswell with mammoth demonstrations on the streets of Minsk. Belarusian authorities stepped up arrests of political opponents and strike leaders in response to another major protest in the country.
Now tagged as ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’, the protest against Lukashenko’s unending, 26-year-old reign has garnered the attention of numerous global organizations, along with the support of the European Union. Aimed at putting an end to the authoritarian regime that stands under the garb of being a transparent and accountable government, the people of Belarus have stepped up their efforts in demanding what they truly deserve as a nation.
In a series of arrests of prominent leaders lending their hand in the protests, Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich was summoned by the Belarusian authorities over her supposed ties to the opposition. The 72-year-old writer, who won the Nobel Prize in 2015, has supported opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and is a member of the Coordination Council set up by her allies to oversee a peaceful transition of power.
Amidst the arrests and detainment of several other presidia and council members, opposition leader Tikhanovskaya had no choice but to flee to Lithuania, following the August 9 polls in which she claimed to have won against Lukashenko (if it were a fair, unrigged election). US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun met Tikhanovskaya in Lithuania and condemned “the violation of human rights and brutality that (we’ve) seen play out in Belarus”, adding that the citizens of Belarus must be free to “determine their own future”. In this conversation with Biegun, Tikhanovskaya said Lukashenko “does not have the support either of the Belarusian people or the international community”.
Lukashenko’s repeated insistence on his seemingly suspicious ‘landslide victory’, backed by police violence against demonstrators, has sparked the huge protests against his regime.
Meanwhile, in a bizarre demonstration of power, footage released by Lukashenko’s press service showed him landing at his residence in Minsk with his 15-year-old son Nikolai, both in bulletproof vests and carrying assault rifles. He then praised riot police manning a heavily fortified barricade as “beautiful guys”. This footage was then used by a state news agency to create and broadcast an unsettling montage featuring scenes of heavily armed riot police and warnings that Lukashenko will impose “order”.