Natalia Fedosenko / Tass via Getty Images
On Thursday, thousands of women, heavily dressed in white flowers and holding, took to the streets across Belarus for a second day of protests. They are reacting to a violent onslaught of anti-government demonstrations sparked by weekend elections, widely viewed as deceptive.
Security forces have repeatedly clashed with protesters in recent nights, using batons, stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. Belarusian authorities say they have arrested about 7,000 people.
The protests erupted after President Alexander Lukashenko declared a landslide in Sunday’s election, claiming a sixth term in office. His main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, initially protested the election results, then disappeared – and reappeared in neighboring Lithuania, to join her children, who were sent from Belarus for their safety during the campaign. Tikhanovskaya posted a video in which she said she was forced to make the difficult decision to leave the country.
Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political rookie, entered the race against Lukashenko after election authorities refused to register the candidacy of her husband, activist blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, who gained popularity with a YouTube channel critical of the government. He was arrested and jailed two days after announcing his intentions to run for office and remains in jail.
In the capital Minsk on Thursday, women, some carrying portraits of loved ones detained in the attack, formed a “line of solidarity”, quietly joining hands to protest the election and riots that followed.
The Road to Independence now. This video was sent by a Minsk resident to the BBC. pic.twitter.com/NpbhB4kddu
– Olga Ivshina (@oivshina) 13 August 2020
Valentina Chailytko, 49, whose husband and son were arrested in Sunday’s protests, has not been able to find out their whereabouts. “I argued with my husband and voted for Lukashenko,” she told the Associated Press. “And that’s what I got in the end – I can’t find my relatives in prison.”
Minsk resident Yelena told Reuters on Wednesday that she could not leave her children at night, “but I can come during the day and say my part.”
In a video posted by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, an unidentified woman said protesters called on authorities to “stop violence and bloodshed.” [and] to stop beating innocent people. “
“We want to show that we only came out with bare hands, unarmed like the rest of the protesters,” she said, adding that security forces were “armed and violent.”
The video was posted on Thursday but apparently was made during Wednesday’s demonstrations.
Lukashenko, who took office in 1994, has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” for his strong rule and strong hold on power.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned the conduct of Sunday’s election, and the European Union is considering sanctions against Lukashenko’s government.
In a statement Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for “a fundamental political change” in Belarus and described the situation there as “a matter of concern”.
“After last Sunday ‘s presidential election, Alexander Lukashenko and [Belarusian] “The authorities must stop oppressing the people of Belarus and open negotiations with the wider society,” he said.
In an interview Wednesday, Pompeo told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty that Washington wants “good results for the people of Belarus, and we will take action accordingly.”
“[W]”I have seen the violence and the consequences, peaceful protesters are being treated in ways that are not in line with the way they should be treated,” he said, speaking from Prague.
Moscow, whose energy subsidies have helped lift Lukashenko, on Thursday blamed outside forces for trying to destabilize Belarus.
“We notice an unprecedented pressure being exerted by foreign partners on the Belarusian authorities,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
“We can see clear attempts at foreign interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state to create a rift in society and destabilize the situation,” she told reporters at a news conference.