Thousands of Belarusian protesters have yet again rallied against the incumbent president, Mr. Alexander Lukashenko, attempting to force the authoritative leader to step down. Yet, with backing from Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the road to freedom is expected to be a bumpy one for Belarusians.
Protests in Belarus (Source: The Independent)
Mass protests had erupted in various parts of Belarus, as president Lukashenko was re-elected, amidst suspicious circumstances. Many Belarusians, as well as opposition candidate Ms. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had denied the results, claiming the election polls were rigged. Such suspicions, however were not unfounded, as president Lukashenko has been known to curb dissent amongst detractors, often employing the KGB to illegally detain and harass the critics.
On the back of such a precedent, Belarusians have protested, unthreatened by the police and the government. However, the recent protests took a drastic turn as president Lukashenko warned protesters of a tough response. Riot police blocked off entrances to the central Independence Square where the rally was due to take place, and there were sightings of police vans, buses packed with troops and water cannon being deployed across the city. Yet, the protesters weren’t detracted with unofficial estimates suggesting that over 100,000 had converged on the center of Minsk, many holding the red-and-white flags that have become a symbol of the protests.
Protestors chanted “You’re a rat” towards president Lukashenko, as the president had remarked the protesters looked like “scattered rats”. Lukashenko is firm in his intentions and has had substantial backing from Vladimir Putin. On Sunday morning, Lukashenko and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, held the latest in a series of recent telephone conversations. The Russian president remarked in an interview, that a special reserve of Russian law enforcement forces, were ready to be deployed if the situation in Belarus went out of hand.
Earlier this week, a Russian plane used to transport the leadership of the country’s FSB security service made a trip to Minsk for the second time in a little more than a week. No details were made public about who was onboard and the purpose of the visit, but it reinforced suspicions the Kremlin is backing Lukashenko and providing him with guidance and support. The protests have also resulted in a crackdown on censorship, as authorities in Minsk have stripped accreditation from 17 Belarusians working for foreign outlets, as well as deporting many Russian journalist.
Commenting on Saturday, Lithuania’s foreign minister, Linas Linkevičius, wrote on Twitter: ‘“Today’s massive withdrawal of accreditations from foreign journalists representing world’s major independent media outlets is a total disgrace. Such a pathetic step only further highlights a moral bankruptcy of the de facto authorities of Belarus.”