The Belarusian opposition planned another large demonstration this Sunday against President Alexander Lukashenko, this time under the threat of live ammunition from the police, who already harshly repressed last Sunday’s demonstration.
This protest will be the first major action since the ultimatum given to Lukashenko, in power since 1994, by opposition leader Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, a refugee in Lithuania.
The opposition party gave the president until October 25 to withdraw, otherwise she will call on the country to demonstrate and a general strike.
The 66-year-old president, under unprecedented pressure since the controversial August 9 presidential election, has shown no intention of giving in to the demands of his opponents, quite the contrary.
All the leaders of the Belarusian opposition are now detained or exiled abroad. And last Sunday, the weekly demonstration in Minsk was violently suppressed by the police, who used water cannons and stun grenades against the crowd and arrested hundreds of people. It was the most brutal intervention in weeks.
On Monday, the Interior Ministry warned that the police will not hesitate to resort “if necessary” to live ammunition, which would constitute a serious escalation of the crisis.
The authorities, who accuse Westerners of fomenting protests to oust Alexander Lukashenko, justified this decision by saying that the demonstrations had become “organized and extremely radical” with “stones, bottles and knives” being thrown at riot police, as well as “barricades and fires” in the streets.
KGB chief Ivan Tertel said on Saturday he was aware of an “imminent provocation” that is being prepared to “destabilize” Belarus.
“This march will be no different from the others … it is just another attempt to scare people,” Dmitri Malets, 33, a supporter of the opposition, told AFP.
The Belarusian police had already fired live ammunition in early August during the first demonstrations in Brest, in the south of the country. A protester died of his injuries.
– Ultimatum –
Other smaller demonstrations have been suppressed by the police since the last giant demonstration on Sunday.
On Monday, police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a demonstration of pensioners marching in the opposition’s red and white colors on the streets of Minsk.
On Saturday, during the traditional women’s and student demonstration, several people, including journalists, were arrested.
In her ultimatum, set for October 25, the opposition Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, in addition to Lukashenko’s resignation, called for an end to the repression of the demonstrations and the release of all “political prisoners”.
“If our demands are not met by October 25, the whole country will take to the streets peacefully,” he warned on Tuesday. “And on October 26, a national strike of all companies will begin, all roads will be blocked, sales in state stores will collapse,” he added.
Since the beginning of the protest movement, hundreds of protesters, leaders of political movements, trade unions and journalists have been arrested.
Lukashenko has the support of Moscow but is under threat of sanctions from the European Union.
The EU has already sanctioned 40 regime leaders, including the Interior Minister and his deputy, accused of being involved in the repression and rigging of the presidential elections on August 9, the outcome of which is not recognized by Europeans.
Tijanóvskaya made numerous trips abroad, and obtained the support of Germany and France, among others, but Moscow considers that these interventions are interference and considers that the opposition and former presidential candidate is not a legitimate interlocutor.