By Stefan J. Bos
About 100,000 people marched Sunday through Minsk against what they view as an authoritarian leader. They are furious that Lukashenko was inaugurated for a six presidential term last week and demanded his resignation.
Protests also happened in nine other cities amid mounting anger over Lukashenko, who critics said stifled opposition and independent news media during 26 years in power.
Police unsuccessfully tried to end the protests. Masked men even pushed a 73-year old great-grandmother into a van for carrying a banned opposition flag during a separate women’s march. Nina Baginskaya has been a regular at protests.
Besides her, the Interior Ministry said police detained some 200 people throughout Belarus on Sunday. Demonstrators do not believe that Lukashenko won the August 9 presidential ballot with 80 percent of the vote, as claimed by officials.
Some carried pictures of exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who the opposition said won the recent election with 60 percent of the vote. “We are here to celebrate the induction of our president elected by the people,” a woman explained. “So unsurprisingly, I am carrying the portrait of my president.”
Her sentiments were shared at a mainly virtual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. One of the speakers there, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, urged Lukashenko to negotiate with his opponents. “The increased repression of peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and opposition leaders are unacceptable. We stand in solidarity with the Russian people in their desire to exercise their fundamental democratic rights,” he stressed.
“We continue to call on the Belarussian leadership to stop the repression and engage in genuine dialogue with the opposition,” Lofven added.
Leaders of Belarus neighbors Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland also expressed concern. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that the Belarussian President should step down. And the European Union is still considering sanctions such as asset freezes of Belarussian officials deemed responsible for the crackdown.
But Belarussian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei hit back. He told the U.N. General Assembly that these expressions of concern are “nothing but attempts to bring chaos and anarchy” to Belarus and halt years of developments.