Thousands rally in Minsk against Lukashenko as EU prepares emergency summit on Belarus
Protests continued in Belarus on Monday evening as at least 5,000 opposition supporters rallied in capital Minsk telling president Alexander Lukashenko to “go away” following a controversial election where he won about 80% of the vote and secured a sixth term.
The vote has been followed by days of protests and violence, with two fatalities and hundreds of detentions across the country.
Protesters and international observers are questioning the fairness of the election, amid arrests and detentions of opposition figures and alleged lack of impartial scrutiny over the electoral process.
EU Council president Charles Michel announced an emergency summit for Wednesday on the current situation in the eastern European country, declaring that the election was “neither free nor fair.”
“The EU has started to work on sanctions”, he added.
Britain also said it did not accept the results of the election, while US President Donald Trump said the situation in Belarus was “terrible” and that he was watching it closely.
President Lukashenko was also jeered and heckled by workers during a factory visit in Minsk on Monday that was intended to shore up support for him.
Thousands of employees have gone on strike at state-run companies, including the Minsk Tractor Plant and the state broadcaster BT, many marching down the streets of the capital.
Government officials had spent the weekend trying to persuade state employees not to abandon their posts.
There have now been nine straight days of protests in Belarus since Lukashenko was declared the winner of the August 9 presidential election.
As many as 200,000 people were estimated to have attended opposition rallies on Sunday, prompting the European Union to declare it “stands by” the people of Belarus in their demands for change.
Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has offered herself as an interim leader for the country – after voluntarily leaving for Lithuania following the vote, stating she feared for her and her children’s safety
Tsikhanouskaya, who according to official results won just 10%, said in a video released on Monday: “I am ready to assume my responsibilities and act as a national leader.”
She added that she did not “want to become a politician” but that “destiny decreed that I would be on the front line in the face of arbitrariness and injustice.”
Strikes could threaten Lukashenko’s position
Workers in the factory visited by Lukashenko chanted “go away” and booed him as he tried to address them on Monday.
“Some of you might have got the impression that the government no longer exists, that it has tumbled down. The government will never collapse, you know me well,” the 65-year-old former state farm director shouted at them.
“There will be no new election until you kill me.”
But he also appeared to suggest he was open to leaving the presidency and handing over power if constitutional reforms were approved in a referendum.
However, he did not specify what the reforms would involve.
Opposition to file criminal charges for police violence
Another opposition leader in Belarus said criminal charges will be filed for police violence against peaceful citizens today.
Maria Kolesnikova, the last remaining opposition figure left in Minsk, said the security forces must be held responsible for the brutal mistreatment of demonstrators and prisoners.
She said around 4,000 people are still in custody.
At least two people died in the demonstrations. The exact cause of death for both men is unclear. Local media reports suggest around 80 people are still missing.
More than 2,000 prisoners were released on Friday, many of whom had severe injuries including: bruises, bloody welts on their backs, lacerations on the head and burns from stun grenades.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International also said it saw evidence of torture.
The authorities denied allegations of ill-treatment, despite a wealth of photo and video evidence.
“We will not rest until the current rulers resign and Belarus becomes a free country,” Kolesnikova said. “26 years of nightmare have to end.”