23rd Oct 2020

Minsk violence prompts talk of EU sanctions

  • Minsk: Belarus woke up to five more years of president Aleksander Lukashenko on Monday (Photo: LHOON)

Images of bloody injuries and videos of police attacking people with batons, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and water cannon flooded the airwaves after yet another sham election in Belarus on Sunday (9 August).

There were "no injuries", a police spokesperson said.

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  • The EU last imposed sanctions on Belarus in 2010 (Photo: Amnesty International)

Police was "in control of the situation at unsanctioned mass events", state news agency Belta also said.

But in one video, police drove a mini-bus into a crowd, leaving victims on the ground.

They also hospitalised a photographer from US press agency AP by beating him unconscious in a van, in another instance of the "brutality" and "excessive force" denounced by human rights groups Amnesty International and Viasna.

Protests - the largest in a decade - erupted in Minsk and other cities after preliminary results on Sunday evening said president Alexander Lukashenko had been re-elected with a landslide 82 percent of votes.

Isolated clashes in Minsk lasted until 3AM or so on Monday morning.

But police had sealed off Independence Square, the presidential palace, and other parts of the city centre in a massive show of force.

Earlier on Sunday, the main opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a jailed blogger, had emerged from hiding to vote.

She got just 6.8 percent, Lukashenko's electoral commission later said.

But she voiced what the protesters thought while at the ballot box, saying: "I believe my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us".

For his part, Lukashenko mocked her as he cast his vote.

"I don't consider this person my main rival ... she says quite honestly that she has no idea what she's doing," he told press.

Reports of a crackdown on the opposition were "fake news" and "far-fetched accusations", he added.

The voting took place in a tense atmosphere, amid warnings of false-flag coup attempts by Russian or US infiltrators.

Authorities disrupted internet access, according to civil society group NetBlocks, including to apps such as Telegram, Twitter, Viber, and WhatsApp.

They had also arrested some 2,000 people ahead of Sunday, according to Viasna.

Meanwhile, Minsk was quiet on Monday morning, as Belarus woke up to five more years of Lukashenko.

The last time independent monitors said there was a free election was in 1995.

The new flare-up in opposition came over Lukashenko's economic misrule and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

For some, it could lead to the end of the Soviet-era authoritarian.

"What is happening in Belarus is the last phase of a great reordering of European politics that began in 1989," a former British ambassador to Minsk, Nigel Gould-Davies, said on Twitter, referring to the fall of communism in Europe.

EU reaction?

The election was a "dangerous farce", and the West should impose sanctions on Belarus, Gould-Davies also said.

The EU last imposed sanctions after a violent crackdown in 2010.

But it lifted most of them in 2016 in the name of improving relations.

It had not yet issued a statement on Monday morning.

But for its part, Poland, Belarus' largest EU neighbour, called for a geopolitical approach.

"We have to be careful, to pull Belarus toward the West, not to push it in the direction of Russia," Polish deputy foreign minister Paweł Jabłoński said on state TV on Monday.

He called for "decisive" EU "action" on the Belarus "crisis".

But he said any new sanctions must not hurt Belarusian people.

And Jabłoński added: "We have to be careful, because the more visible the influence of Western diplomacy becomes, the more intensively Lukashenko will use that to complain about [foreign] interference in the country's internal affairs".

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