(MINSK, Belarus) — The embattled president of Belarus tried to placed on a present of power Sunday, holding a rally with tens of hundreds of supporters and rejecting any chance of repeating the vote that gave him a sixth time period. However opponents countered with a far bigger demonstration that attracted as many as 200,000 folks.
Alexander Lukashenko, who has dominated the previous Soviet republic of 9.5 million since 1994, lashed out on the West and declared to his crowd that the nation would “perish as a state” if the election had been rerun.
About 50,000 folks listened to Lukashenko in a sq. close to the primary authorities constructing within the capital of Minsk. However as he spoke, throngs of supporters streamed to their very own rally about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) away. It was the eighth straight day of anti-government demonstrations.
Throughout 26 years in workplace, Lukashenko has repressed opposition figures and impartial information media. However this yr, protesters fed up with the nation’s declining residing requirements and Lukashenko’s dismissal of the coronavirus pandemic have posed the largest problem to his rule.
The 65-year-old president claimed Sunday that Western powers had been gathering army items in nations alongside Belarus’ western borders and denounced recommendations by some Western nations that Belarus ought to repeat the Aug. 9 presidential vote, which opposition supporters say gave Lukashenko a victory solely via huge fraud. Official outcomes say he acquired 80% of the vote.
“If we observe their lead (and rerun the election), we are going to perish as a state,” Lukashenko declared, a day after saying he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed that Russia would ship unspecified safety help to the previous Soviet republic if Lukashenko requested for it.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu dismissed the president’s declare about troops gathering, tweeting that there isn’t a NATO buildup within the area.
“NATO’s multinational presence within the jap a part of the Alliance isn’t a risk to any nation,” Lungescu mentioned. “It’s strictly defensive, proportionate & designed to stop battle & protect peace.”
The Collective Treaty Safety Group, a army alliance of six former Soviet states together with Belarus, mentioned Sunday it could decide about offering help if Belarus requested it.
1000’s have been arrested on the post-election protests, which police tried to place down with golf equipment, rubber bullets and flash grenades. When many detainees had been later launched, they confirmed intensive bruises they mentioned had been on account of police beatings. Some protesters carried footage of family members they mentioned had been overwhelmed so badly that they may not attend.
As Lukashenko’s supporters waited for his look Sunday, many chanted his nickname of “Batka,” or “father.”
Additionally they chanted “Maidan gained’t happen,” referring to the months of protests in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014 that drove then-President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the nation. Shortly after Yanukovych’s departure, Putin then moved to annex your complete Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine, claiming an enormous swath of its Black Beach for Russia.
“Now all people is in opposition to Lukashenko, and the president wants our help. All people abruptly has forgotten the nice issues he has executed — there’s order within the nation, we don’t have battle or starvation,” mentioned supporter Tamara Yurshevich, a 35-year-old lawyer.
As Lukashenko spoke, throngs of opponents converged on a park about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles away). Within the late afternoon, they streamed into the sq. vacated by Lukashenko supporters.
In distinction to the primary days of protest when massive contingents of police and particular forces had been deployed in opposition to protesters, police gave the impression to be all however absent when the opposition supporters entered the sq.. The gathering ended peacefully about three hours later. There have been no official figures on crowd measurement, however some reviews estimated it at about 200,000.
Protesters had been thrilled by the turnout Sunday, and plenty of felt that they had momentum.
“The results of the election is on the streets and squares of Belarus immediately — it’s a sea of people that won’t ever conform to dwell as earlier than with Lukashenko,” mentioned Feliks Zharikov, an engineer who got here along with his spouse and son.
“Instantly, the temper in society modified and everybody abruptly understood that Lukashenko misplaced,” mentioned Anna Trushevich, a college biology teacher.
European Union overseas ministers have rejected the election outcomes and on Friday started drawing up a listing of officers in Belarus who may face sanctions. If Lukashenko had been to renew a harsh crackdown, the response from the West might be even stronger.
However calling on Russia for army assist can be perilous. Though Russia and Belarus agreed in 1997 to an in depth union, Lukashenko regularly claims that his large neighbor goals to soak up Belarus solely. Within the run-up to the election, Belarus arrested 33 Russian personal army contractors whom it claimed had been despatched int to destabilize the nation.
On Sunday, a video circulated on YouTube that purported to indicate Belarus’ ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya, expressing “solidarity with those that got here out on the streets of Belarusian cities with peaceable marches in order that their voice might be heard.”
The embassy couldn’t be reached for remark, however Slovakia International Minister Ivan Korcok indicated the video was authentic. It could be the primary indication of dissent at a excessive stage of presidency.
“We’ve famous the robust assertion of the #Belarusian Ambassador to Slovakia. It confirms our evaluation of present scenario in #Belarus. This can be a clear sign from a senior Belarusian diplomat who courageously helps his fellow residents,” he mentioned on Twitter.
Related Press Author Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.