Belarus Protests Continue As Minsk, Moscow Sit Down For Share-Sale Talks
July 14, 2011
Dozens more demonstrators were detained on the night of July 13 in the Belarusian capital and other cities in what has become a tense weekly ritual of confrontation between security forces and protesters.
Uniformed and plainclothes police were out in force in a bid to head off the Internet-driven demonstrations, in which participants set their mobile phones to ring at 8 p.m. to protest the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the country's mounting economic crisis.
Protesters tried in vain to compel young men in street clothes to identify themselves as they wrestled demonstrators into unmarked vans.
The Belarusian rights group Vyasna said several reporters were also taken in for questioning. RFE/RL Belarus Service correspondent Aleh Hruzdilovich was among those detained briefly in Minsk. He was released after being fingerprinted.
Hearings for many of those detained are being held in courtrooms around the country today. In Minsk so far, about half a dozen protesters have been sentenced to jail terms of from five to 15 days.
Meanwhile, Minsk is taking steps to cope with a mounting economic crisis that is also a key motivator of the protests. Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich is in Moscow for talks with Russian investors about the possible sale of state-owned stakes in several key enterprises. Gas pipelines, oil refineries, a mobile-phone operator, and a carmaker are among the businesses potentially up for grabs, while interested investors include Gazprom, LUKoil, Rosneft, and others.
Myasnikovich told reporters in Moscow on July 13 that "the negotiations could be more dynamic," while Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin criticized Minsk for dragging its heels in implementing economic reforms.
Belarus has already received $800 million in stabilization funding from the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Community, but Moscow has tied additional support to Minsk's willingness to privatize nearly $8 billion in state-held assets.
The political crackdown in Belarus continues to provoke international condemnation. On July 13, a group of 37 human rights organizations from 16 countries sent an open letter to the Belarusian government urging it to "stop harassment of those who exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and expression" and to release all those who have been detained.
Despite the ongoing arrests and trials, the government has sent some mixed signals in recent days. Prosecutors earlier this week dropped an effort to shut down two independent newspapers that authorities accused of "wrong coverage" of recent events. Last week, Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut was given a suspended sentence on charges that he had insulted Lukashenka in his articles. Activists had feared he would be given a jail term.
written by Robert Coalson
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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