Alexander Lukashenko receives support from Moscow. But opponents of the authoritarian head of state in Belarus have been massively arrested – there are said to be more than 200 people.
Ahead of a special meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the situation in Belarus, opponents of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko were arrested en masse in Minsk. Belarusian special police OMON took action against peaceful protesters in the capital on Friday evening. Human rights organization Wesna spoke of more than 200 arrests – considerably more than in recent days.
The security forces recently held back. There were only a few arrests – after nearly 7,000 people were locked in confined spaces in the early days of the protests following the controversial presidential election on August 9. Most of them were released a few days later, also under international pressure.
President Lukashenko recently announced it would take systematic action against protesters. He will face it – no matter how hard his opponents tried to destabilize the situation in the country, he said Thursday. Numerous journalists were also temporarily detained in the evenings.
Arrests and evacuations
Security forces equipped with black face masks surrounded Independence Square in central Minsk, a reporter from the German news agency reported on the spot. Hundreds of people had gathered there peacefully despite a ban on demonstrations. They shouted “Freedom!” and “Get out of here!”
Men in particular were taken into custody and driven in prison wagons. The OMON had been transported by hundreds in large green passenger carriers without registration. Loudspeaker announcements warned of the unauthorized demonstration – and there were open threats of violence for participating in the demonstration.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously said that at Lukashenko’s request, he had set up a reserve with his own security forces in the event of an intervention in Belarus. It is only used when “the situation gets out of hand,” the Kremlin chief told Rossiya 1 station. At the moment there is no need for it. Russia is a close ally of Belarus.
Lukashenko’s victory has been criticized internationally
The mass protests were triggered by the elections almost three weeks ago. Lukashenko, proclaimed “last dictator in Europe”, claims victory in the vote. The result of 80.1 percent for him after 26 years in power is internationally criticized as grossly falsified.
The OSCE Permanent Council will discuss the situation in the country between Russia and EU member Poland on Friday. The committee with representatives from 57 countries meets at the initiative of the current presiding country Albania. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama will comment on the conflict in Belarus and the possible role of the OSCE.
The situation has become increasingly tense lately
The organization recently offered to mediate between protesters and the government. Belarus is a member of the OSCE, but controversial President Alexander Lukashenko has so far refused to act as a mediator. In Belarus a coordination council has been set up by the democracy movement, which is pursuing a peaceful change of power in Belarus through dialogue.
The situation in Minsk was more tense on Thursday than the days before. There was great anger after people had been detained by OMON forces for 40 minutes in the Catholic Church in Independence Square the night before. In protest against the arbitrariness, the democracy movement in Belarus called on the faithful of all religious communities to oppose the police state. Hundreds of people answered the call that evening. They said loud prayers for peace when the security forces intervened.