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17th Jan 2022

Belarus 'will not be broken', opposition chief tells MEPs

  • Belarus has seen the largest protests in its history since the presidential elections (Photo: Homoatrox)

Belarusian presidential challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Tuesday (25 August) told MEPs that her opposition organisation is ready to enter into dialogue with authorities in Minsk to resolve the political crisis.

She said the will of the Belarusian people for free elections "will not be broken" by the violent crackdown carried out by authorities loyal to strongman Aleksander Lukashenko.

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  • Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Photo: Serge Serebro)

"Belarus has woken up. We are not the opposition anymore. We are the majority now," Tikhanovskaya said, adding that the people's aim was to achieve free and fair elections through dialogue.

"It is our aim to achieve the fair and free election peacefully by way of dialogue. Hereby I declare our readiness for negotiations with the authorities. We are ready to nominate the negotiators. We are willing to consider the mediation of international organisations," she said.

Despite Tikhanovskaya's readiness for dialogue, on Tuesday, Belarusian authorities summoned Nobel prize-winning author Svetlana Alexievich to question her over a criminal case against the Coordination Council.

The council was founded by Tikhanovskaya and Alexievich is a member.

Two other senior opposition figures from the council were jailed on Monday in Minsk, including Olga Kovalkova, who is the main representative, still in Belarus, of Tikhanovskaya.

Tikhanovskaya was speaking to EU lawmakers by video-link from Lithuania, where she fled following the 9 August presidential election amid reports that she and her family were threatened.

"The intimidation will not work. We will not relent," the 37-year old woman told MEPs.

After the election, which the EU said was rigged, Lukashenko has shown determination to stay in power despite more than two weeks of demonstrations by defiant Belarussians.

Lukashenko called Tikhanovskaya's Coordination Council, set up to open negotiations with the government, an illegal attempt to seize power.

The 65-year old leader's fate is widely seen as lying in the hands of the Kremlin.

And Russia told Western powers to mind their own business on Tuesday.

"During discussions over the current situation in Belarus, the Russian side there should not be any attempt to pressure Minsk, either through sanctions or politically," the Kremlin said after Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met a senior US diplomat in Moscow.

Tikhanovskaya said the same day that "the revolution in Belarus is not a geopolitical revolution".

"It is neither pro-Russian nor an anti-Russian revolution. It is neither anti-EU nor a pro-EU revolution, it is a democratic revolution. It is the striving of the people to freely and fairly elect its leaders and decide its destiny," she told the European Parliament, calling on all countries to respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Belarus.

Sanction list 'very soon'

Meanwhile, in an extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, the secretary general of the EU's external service, Helga Schmid, repeated EU calls for the release of protestors and a thorough investigation into violence.

"What is extremely important to emphasise is that this mobilisation of Belarussian people is about their right to freely and democratically choose their leaders and to be able to decide the future for themselves. I'm saying that because this is not about a binary choice between the West or Russia," she said.

She also called on Belarussian authorities to stop criminal cases against the Coordination Council and to release its detained members.

Schmid said the EU foreign service was preparing EU sanctions against those responsible for violence and election fraud, which will be discussed with foreign ministers later this week.

A decision will be taken "very, very soon", Schmid said.

Committee chair MEP David McAllister said after the meeting that the parliament overwhelmingly supported the right of the people of Belarus to participate in free and fair elections.

"The only viable solution for a stable future of a sovereign Belarus is a dialogue involving all domestic and international stakeholders, leading to a peaceful solution," he added.

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