As the Alexander Lukashenko-led Belarusian administration continues its violent crackdown on protestors for the third consecutive week, European Union (EU) members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have announced entry bans against the country’s embattled president and 29 other high-ranking officials.
The Baltic countries have accused Lukashenko of committing a number of human rights violations in the weeks after he was re-elected in a controversial and highly-disputed election. The EU earlier announced that it would impose sanctions on top Belarusian authorities for arresting thousands of protestors and committing alleged voter fraud.
“We are sending the message that we need to do more than just issue statements, we must also take concrete action,” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP.
Meanwhile, days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he had formed a reserve police force, which he would deploy if the political crisis worsened in Belarus, the White House on Monday urged the country to “respect” the sovereignty of neighbouring Belarus, AFP reported.
Widespread protests in Belarus were sparked by the re-election of its long-time leader Lukashenko, who has served as president of the country for over 26 years. According to the country’s election commission, President Alexander Lukashenko secured 80 per cent of the vote in the poll on August 9. However, protestors accused the 65-year-old leader of committing fraud by rigging votes, and demanded a fresh election.
As protests continued, Belarusian authorities deployed a huge number of law enforcement officials to contain the crowds of demonstrators. Several reports of police brutality soon emerged. At least four people were killed and thousands were arrested in the weeks that followed.
Here are the top developments from Belarus
Imposing sanctions will have opposite effect: Belarus’ foreign ministry
Responding to the sanctions imposed by the Baltic countries, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anatoly Glaz said that blacklisting President Lukashenko and other senior officials would prove to have the opposite effect.
“The history of our independent country shows eloquently that any attempts at sanctions on Belarus only lead their initiators to the opposite effect,” ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said in a statement, according to AFP.
Russia must respect Belarus’ sovereignty, says White House
During a press briefing on Monday, a representative of the White House urged Russia to respect the sovereignty of Belarus and allow its people to elect their leaders in a free and fair manner, AFP reported.
“Russia must also respect Belarus’ sovereignty and the right of its own people to elect their own leaders freely and fairly,” President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, told reporters yesterday.
Belarus’ opposition leader to address UN Security Council
Belarusian President Lukashenko’s main challenger at this year’s election, exiled leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya will address the UN Security Council via video link, her team has said, according to a report by BBC.
At the invitation of Estonia, the opposition leader is set to speak to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe next week.
Soon after Lukashenko’s re-election, Svetlana fled to Lithuania after allegedly facing threats from Belarusian authorities. Several opposition leaders were imprisoned and some others, like Svetlana, were forced to flee the country to escape arrest.
No plans to deploy reserve police force in Belarus yet, says Kremlin
A spokesperson for the Kremlin has said that there are no immediate plans to deploy Russia’s reserve police force in Belarus as the situation is still under control, Russian news agency TASS reported.
“There are currently no plans to use this reserve force. The Russian president has pointed out that it will be used as a measure of last resort if extremists attempt to destabilize the situation. But we can see that the situation is under control so there is no point talking about it now,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the report by TASS.
Protesters storm streets as Lukashenko gets birthday call from Putin
Thousands of protesters stormed the streets of Belarus on the occasion of President Alexander Lukashenko’s birthday on Sunday, and chanted “Happy Birthday, you rat”, in unison, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Lukashenko to visit Moscow in a birthday phone call made later that day. According to reports, the call was a sign of Putin’s support for Lukashenko amidst the intensifying political crisis in Belarus.
Detentions resume in Belarus as students take to the streets
Belarusian authorities on Tuesday resumed detaining protesters in the capital, Minsk, where students took to the streets demanding the resignation of the country’s authoritarian leader after an election the opposition denounced as rigged.
Several dozen students on Tuesday held pickets outside their universities and marched through the city center on the fourth week of mass protests rocking the country. Belarusian media reported that at least 18 students were detained as police moved to break up the crowd.
President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed the protesters as Western puppets and bristled at the demands for him to step down after 26 years in power or start a dialogue with the opposition.
After a ferocious crackdown on demonstrators in the first days after the August 9 vote that caused international outrage, his government has avoided large-scale violence against demonstrators and sought to end the protests with threats and the selective jailing of activists. (AP)
(With inputs from AFP, AP, Reuters)