By Stefan J. Bos
Unauthorized anti-government protests resumed in the Belarussian capital Minsk, as a massive security force watched nearby.
The standoff appeared tense. It came after police on Saturday detained dozens of people, mostly students, in the fourth weekend of protests.
They want President Alexander Lukashenko to resign. These demonstrators do not believe he won the 9 August presidential ballot with 80 percent of the vote. They claim Lukashenko rigged the poll.
But President Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic with an iron fist for 26 years, denies wrongdoing and refuses to leave.
Amid the turmoil, top opposition activist Olga Kovalkova says she has taken refuge in Poland amid jail threats. The Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has made clear his country will offer support to victims of repression in Belarus.
Olga Kovalkova isn’t the only prominent activist seeking refuge in nearby nations. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has sought refuge in Lithuania. She urged the United Nations Security Council via videolink to help halt the authorities’ crackdown on protesters.
“Today, my country is in turmoil. Peaceful protesters are illegally detained, beaten, and imprisoned,” said Tikhanovskaya, 37. “We ask the UN to send a monitoring mission immediately to Belarus to document the situation on the ground,” the former English teacher added.
“The protests themselves after a cynical and blatant attempt by Mr. Lukashenko to steal the votes of the people.”
She also recalled that some 7,000 people had been detained in recent weeks and said the opposition had fair demands. “The demands of the nation are simple: The immediate termination of threats by the regime. The immediate release of all political prisoners and free and fair elections,” she said.
However, she claimed, there is only one obstacle for these demands being met. “This obstacle is Mr. Lukashenko, a man who desperately clings on to power and who refuses to listen to his people and his own state officials.”
Last month, European Union leaders agreed to impose sanctions. That would include asset freezes – on as yet unnamed Belarusian officials involved in alleged election-rigging, a police crackdown, and imprisonment of protesters.
But they still have to work out the exact sanctions as protests continue.