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Fourth Night Of Postelection Protests In Belarus As Pompeo Vows U.S. Action

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service August 12, 2020

MINSK -- Belarus witnessed a fourth night of protests on August 12 in Minsk and elsewhere against the reelection of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a vote that protesters say was rigged.

In several parts of Minsk, groups of hundreds of people formed human chains to protest as people in cars honked horns and slowed to a crawl to block police vehicles.

Similar protests were held in at least five other cities, according to the Belarusian rights NGO Vyasna (Spring).

On Minsk's Dzerzhinsky Avenue, people stood on balconies, clapping in an expression of support, AP reported. A group of riot police arrived and fired rubber bullets at them.

An RFE/RL journalist and his wife were stopped as they were driving in that area by police. Vitaly Tsyhankov was pulled from the car by police, beaten, and thrown to the ground, before being detained, his wife said. She was also detained.

Earlier, Belarusian authorities admitted for the first time on August 12 using live ammunition against people protesting against the presidential election that handed the 65-year-old Lukashenka a sixth term as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed U.S. action to ensure a "good outcome for the Belarusian people."

At least one person has been killed and thousands detained after the August 9 poll that saw Lukashenka, in power since 1994, declared winner. His top challenger, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has left the country and is now in Lithuania.

Earlier in the day, women joined hands in Minsk and other towns and cities in Belarus on August 12 to protest the postelection crackdown.

This came after the Belarusian Interior Ministry said that a man was wounded in the western city of Brest overnight after law enforcement troops opened fire at a group of people who, police said, attacked them with iron bars.

It was the first such admittance by Belarusian authorities that live ammunition had been used against protesters.

In an interview with RFE/RL during a visit to Prague on August 12, Pompeo said that "we've watched the violence and the aftermath, peaceful protesters being treated in ways that are inconsistent with how they should be treated."

The vote has resulted in three straight evenings of mass protests marred by police violence and thousands of detentions.

Pompeo said that the United States had not yet settled on the appropriate response, but would work with Washington's European partners to determine what action to take.

According to the Belarusian Interior Ministry, protests were held in 25 towns and cities across Belarus on August 11.

"More than 1,000 people were detained for taking part in unsanctioned mass events. According to the Health Ministry, 51 people turned to medical institutions for help. Fourteen police and Interior Ministry troops sustained injuries of different degrees of severity, some of whom were hospitalized," the statement said.

Riot police have fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades to disperse protesters in the capital, Minsk, and other cities since August 10.

Belarusian authorities said a day earlier that more than 5,000 people had been detained, some 200 hospitalized, and at least one death after protests erupted after the August 9 poll.

The demonstrations on August 11 took place after Tsikhanouskaya surfaced in Lithuania that day following reports that she had visited CEC headquarters on August 10 to file a complaint about the official outcome of the vote.

On August 12, hundreds of relatives of detained people gathered in front of the central detention center in Minsk in an attempt to get information about their loved ones.

They said that they could hear the screams of people apparently being beaten inside the detention center.

They chanted "Shame!" and "Fascists!" when an ambulance and four military vehicles came out of the detention center. They also loudly announced the time in the hope that it would help incarcerated people realize how long had passed since they were detained, as Belarusian law allows suspects to be kept in custody for 72 hours without access to a lawyer and family.

RFE/RL correspondents noticed individuals in military uniforms resembling snipers on the roofs of detention center buildings.

Human rights activists say all detention centers, police stations, and jails across the country are overcrowded with detained protesters and journalists.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) issued a statement on August 12 calling on the authorities to stop targeted violence against media representatives.

According to the statement, 12 journalists detained by police while they were covering the protests across the country remain in custody. It remains unknown what they are accused of.

The BAZh said security forces deliberately used violence against journalists on August 11, intentionally damaging their equipment and confiscating memory cards.

The group demanded that the authorities stop the violence against reporters and immediately release all detained journalists.

Meanwhile, European Union (EU) foreign ministers will discuss the developments in Belarus at their meeting on August 14, the 27-member bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, announced on Twitter.

"We will discuss urgent issues and address the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Belarus presidential elections as well as developments in Lebanon," Borrell's tweet said.

In his earlier statement on Twitter Borrell called the election in Belarus "neither free nor fair."

"EU calls on [Belarusian] leadership to initiate genuine dialogue w/ broader society & stop unacceptable violence and crackdown on freedoms of assembly, media and expression. We will conduct in-depth review of our relations," Borrell tweeted.

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-third-night- protests-thousands-detained-/30778635.html

Copyright (c) 2020. 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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