Belarusian police arrested around 200 people in a new opposition rally against President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday. He was unexpectedly sworn in this week, despite an unprecedented protest movement.
Mr. Lukashenko has been facing a historic challenge since the presidential election of August 9. Tens of thousands of people take to the streets every Sunday in Minsk to denounce his re-election deemed fraudulent, despite police repression.
This Sunday, some 100,000 people marched in the rain in Minsk, according to AFP journalists there, including well-known athletes, a number comparable to previous weeks. The Interior Ministry said it had arrested around 200 people.
According to the NGO Viasna, the police used tear gas in Gomel, the second largest city in the country, and stun grenades in Mogilev (east). The Interior Ministry denied this last point.
“We elected our president,” protester Eleonora Naumova told AFP, holding up a portrait of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. “We don’t want to live in a concentration camp,” added the 48-year-old designer.
In central Minsk, armored vehicles were deployed and several metro stations were closed. The Independence Palace, where Mr Lukashenko sits and to which massive rallies have converged recently, was bristling with barriers and heavily guarded by riot police. Several central squares and shopping centers where protesters have taken refuge in the past have also been closed.
“If any impostor can be crowned here, then why not me?” Quips Sergei Mikhailov, 36, wearing a cardboard crown distributed in a fast-food chain.
“We are millions,” said Lukashenko’s rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, in a message posted on social media on Sunday to support the demonstrators on the “50th day of our protests.” “We are going to win,” she said, recalling the “peaceful” nature of the movement.
As of Saturday, the authorities made some 150 arrests, mainly of women gathered to protest against the regime, as well as of journalists.
A refugee in Lithuania, 38-year-old opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is claiming victory in the August election, following an election campaign in which the political novice galvanized the crowds.
The rallies come after Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a sixth term on Wednesday, sparking further protests the same day. The ceremony at the presidential palace had not been announced and took place on the sly.
“This alleged investiture is obviously a farce”, denounced Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa.
“Lukashenko must go”
The German government ruled that “the secrecy” surrounding the inauguration ceremony was “revealing” of the weaknesses of the regime and that for lack of “democratic legitimacy”, Berlin did not recognize the re-election of Mr. Lukashenko.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due for his part from Monday to Wednesday his first visit to Lithuania and Latvia, two Baltic states which hope for his support in the face of the political crisis in neighboring Belarus and Russian pressure.
The EU has indicated that it does not recognize Lukashenko’s legitimacy, as has the United States.
“What is happening in Belarus is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power which cannot accept the logic of democracy and which clings on by force. It is clear that Lukashenko must leave,” a Mr. Macron declared on Sunday in an interview with the Journal du dimanche (JDD).
Mr. Lukashenko, who accuses the West of having fomented the protest, promised a vague constitutional reform to respond to this political crisis but he ruled out any dialogue with the detractors of the regime he has been leading since 1994.
He enlisted the help of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who pledged security support to Minsk if needed and pledged Belarus a loan of $ 1.5 billion.
The Belarusian regime has imprisoned many cadres of the Opposition Coordination Council created by Ms Tikhanovskaïa. Others had to flee their country.