17th Oct 2019

Police beat protestors in Belarus and Russia

Riot police used fists and batons against peaceful demonstrators in Minsk on Sunday making 30 to 60 arrests. The events come one day after similar scenes in Russia, with Russian president Vladimir Putin sending the EU a barbed birthday message.

The Belarus violence broke out in mid-afternoon when a column of some 3,000 to 5,000 protestors tried to break through a police cordon to get to October Square. No serious injuries were reported but a Polish MP, Malgorzata Gosiewska and a PAP reporter, Bozena Kuzawinska, were each punched several times.

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Between 10,000 and 15,000 people came out in total, making the rally the biggest since last year's protests against the fake elections that kept Europe's "last dictator" president Aleksander Lukashenko in power. Polish MEP Janusz Onyszkiewicz and the German ambassador to Belarus were also in the crowd.

Many of the protestors carried blue EU banners and flags, a revolutionary symbol in Belarus, and chanted "Belarus to Europe!" as well as German chancellor Angela Merkel's words - "Europe is with you" - which had been relayed by media from the EU 50th birthday party in Berlin.

The two people in charge of the riot squads, Dzmitry Paulichenka and Yury Padabed are already on the EU's 35-strong visa ban list, which was unanimously extended for one more year just a few days before the weekend's events.

"Today despite all the obstacles we have proved that we are one people that want to live in Europe in a free and independent state," one of the opposition youth leaders, Mikita Sasim, told crowds gathered outside Minsk's library, NGO Charter97 reports.

"Despite a campaign of fear, people came out on the streets to protest. It's disturbed the authorities, which answered the only way they know how, with violence," one of the opposition leaders, Aleksander Milinkevich told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

Mr Milinkevich and his wife were also punched and kicked to the ground on Sunday. The night before, his car was doused with acid by unknown vandals. His ally, Aleskander Kozulin, is in jail. Other opposition leaders, such as Kristina Shatsikava, have been put into mental asylums.

Belarus authorities said the number of protestors was just 4,000 people, Russian media report. "The suppression of any political action associated with violating public order, posing a threat to people's security and resisting the authorities is a quite appropriate policy in any democratic state. I am certain that the fuss over such actions will weaken," Lukashenko spokesman Alexander Konovalov said.

Russian violence day earlier

The events in Minsk mirrored Saturday's violence in the Russian town of Nizhny Novgorod, where riot police beat crowds protesting against president Vladimir Putin's roll back of democratic reforms in the run-up to next year's presidential elections. About 30 arrests were made.

Similar protests were also handled roughly by police in St Petersburg in recent weeks, with some western powers - but not the EU - recently voicing concern about the internal drift back to pre-perestrojka days in Europe's largest country.

"The trends, unfortunately, are not going in the right direction," senior US diplomat David Kramer told EUobserver in Brussels last week, citing pressure on free media and independent NGOs as key problems.

The EU is less keen to publicly criticise Moscow, with the German EU presidency recently burying a UK proposal to try and send OSCE election monitors to the parliamentary elections this December.

Brussels and Moscow's relationship is not an easy one since 2004 enlargement, with trade commissioner Peter Mandelson this weekend saying the EU may block Russia's WTO entry bid if it does not lift an embargo on Polish meat exports.

The meat issue and wider energy gripes have seen Poland veto talks on a new EU-Russia treaty since late last year. Lithuania is threatening to do the same.

Happy birthday Russian style

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Sunday sent a birthday message to Berlin on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the EU's founding treaty. His words spoke of the European Union as a "growing authority" in global security problems.

But the increasingly autocratic leader also called for "mutual respect" and warned the EU27 leaders that "every interruption to dialogue is counter-productive" in an apparent reference to the stalled EU-Russia treaty negotiations.

"We cannot allow new dividing lines to appear in Europe, allowing unilateral projects to be realised that endanger the interests and security of neighbours," he added, on Poland and the Czech Republic's plans to host a US missile defence system in the future.

EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey

EU states have agreed to stop arms sales to Turkey over its invasion of Syria, marking a nadir in relations with their Nato ally. In response, Ankara mocked the decision as a "joke".

EU powerless in new Syrian mayhem

EU foreign ministers are meeting to find a common position on the Turkish invasion in Syria. However, events are evolving quickly, as Kurdish forces asked the Syrian army to protect them.

Turkish attack on Syria might revive Isis

The EU has told Turkey to stop its attack on Syria, but Trump seems to be less worried about the 12,000 Isis fighters walking free, saying "they will be escaping to Europe".

Borrell hard on Russia in EU hearing

The EU should continue to expand in the Western Balkans and maintain sanctions on Russia, its next foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said.


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