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Thousands Mourn Protester As Belarus's Postelection Rallies Continue

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service August 15, 2020

MINSK -- Thousands of Belarusians have staged a seventh day of peaceful protests against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's disputed reelection and a harsh crackdown that has drawn international outrage.

Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called for peaceful rallies on August 15-16, after she was forced to leave the country for neighboring Lithuania after disputing Lukashenka's claim to a landslide victory.

A few thousand people gathered outside the Minsk studios of Belarusian state radio and television, peacefully chanting slogans as a few soldiers stood on the other side of the perimeter fence.

The protesters urged state-media journalists to "respect" their audiences.

A state television lighting technician, Uladzimer Tsitarenka, told RFE/RL that "nearly 80 percent" of the technical staff were ready to join a general strike to protest the election.

"Everything will be decided on Monday," he said.

Earlier in the day, thousands of people gathered near the Pushkinskaya subway station in the capital, Minsk, in honor of Alyaksandr Taraykouski, a 34-year-old demonstrator who died there on August 10 and whose funeral is being held on August 15.

People held flowers and raised their fists as they held a moment of silence.

Passing cars honked in solidarity with the protesters, who waved national red-and-white flags and chanted Tsikhanouskaya's name.

Taraykouski's family urged protesters not to attend the church service and instead gather near the subway station where he died.

Despite the plea, hundreds gathered outside the church service waving flags and photos of Taraykouski.

Hundreds of others entered the hall, where the ceremony took place, to lay flowers and wreaths.

After the funeral, people were clapping and shouting "Glory to the hero!" and "Long live Belarus!"

At least two people have been killed and thousands detained in protests since the controversial August 9 election that saw Lukashenka, in power since 1994, declared the winner.

The demonstrators have witnessed unprecedented scenes on the streets of Minsk and other cities, energizing opposition to Lukashenka despite a brutal crackdown.

Some 6,700 people were detained in the first days afer the election, with those rounded up describing horrible conditions in detention facilities, beatings, and other mistreatment.

More than 2,000 people who were detained during protests have been released.

Around 5,000 people held a rally in the western city of Hrodna, with protesters waving national flags and holding balloons saying "Lukashenka resign."

During the rally in Hrodna's Lenin Square, protesters chanted "Lukashenka, go away."

The rallies on August 15 came a day after Tsikhanouskaya urged her supporters to continue ongoing protests into the weekend.

"Belarusians will never want to live with the previous government again. The majority do not believe in his victory," she said in a video on August 14. "Defend our choice."

A "March for Freedom" is planned in central Minsk on August 16.

Scenes of violent detentions and police beatings in the days after the vote morphed into a euphoric sense that change may be possible on August 14 as tens of thousands took to the streets without major police violence, creating what Belarusian political analyst Dzmitry Bolkunets described as the "beginning of national jubilation."

"Protesters have lost their fear, they are not afraid of reprisals," Bolkunets told Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Flower-waving women dressed in white, workers striking at state companies, doctors, students, and Belarusians of every stripe are joining protests. Even some law enforcement officials have gone on strike or refused to work.

The nationwide protests pose the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenka's 26-year rule.

Lukashenka discussed the mass street protests rocking his country with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on August 15 as the strongman faces growing pressure to step down.

The Kremlin said that during their conversation the two leaders agreed that the "problems" in Belarus would be "resolved soon."

During a televised meeting with government officials on August 14, Lukashenka urged Belarusians not to attend the protests, claiming that the opposition wanted "to use you and your children as cannon fodder."

Demonstrators are demanding that the election results be invalidated, that a new election be held under a new Central Election Commission, and that all political prisoners be released.

The election commission declared Lukashenka the winner of the election with some 80 percent of the vote. Tsikhanouskaya says she won 60-70 percent.

The prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania earlier called on Belarus to conduct a new, "free and fair" vote after the disputed August 9 election.

In a joint statement on August 15, the three Baltic states urged Belarus to refrain from violence and release political prisoners and detained protesters.

They also called for European Union sanctions on those responsible for the violence.

The European Union on August 14 ratcheted up pressure on Lukashenka by agreeing to prepare new sanctions on those responsible for the violence and falsification of the vote.

"The European Union considers the results to have been falsified and therefore does not accept the results of the election," EU foreign ministers said.

Tsikhanouskaya said that she was initiating the creation of a "Coordination Council" for a potential transition of power.

With reporting by Current Time and TASS

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-postelection-massive-weekend-protests/30785061.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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