‘How many grandmas should it take to oust one grandpa?’ Retirees rally against Belarus’ president
About 3,000 retirees rallied in the Belarusian capital of Minsk for a third straight Monday to demand the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko as mass protests against a disputed election continue to roil the country.
They marched through the streets carrying flowers and chanting for Lukashenko, 66, to “go away!” One banner said: “How many grandmas should it take to oust one grandpa?”
Pro-Lukashenko pensioners also rallied in the capital. About 2,000 people — many of them men in military and security-forces uniforms — converged on Minsk’s Independence Square with national flags and banners that said, “For peace, prosperity and traditional values.” Local media reported that some had been bused to the rally in what appeared to be an state-organized effort.
Lukashenko, who has run the country for 26 years and has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator,” was declared the winner of an Aug. 9 election that was widely seen as rigged. Official results said he received 80% of the vote, while his main opponent, schoolteacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, got only 10%. She refused to recognize the results as valid, saying they had been manipulated.
Tens of thousands of Belarusians have been regularly protesting in Minsk and other cities since the vote, demanding that Lukashenko step down, with the largest rallies drawing up to 200,000 people.
The authorities tried to disperse the mostly peaceful crowds with truncheons, stun grenades and water cannons, and they have made mass detentions. On Monday, the country’s Interior Ministry threatened to use firearms against them “if need be,” saying the rallies “have become organized and extremely radical.”
Detainees swept up in protest against Belarus president describe harrowing jailhouse abuse. Major rights group deems some of it torture.
However, the demonstrations have continued despite the crackdown.
More than 50,000 people gathered in Minsk on Sunday for an anti-government march, according to the Viasna human rights center, and smaller protests also took place in other cities. The Interior Ministry reported that 280 demonstrators were detained on Sunday, 215 of them in Minsk. The ministry estimated the crowd in the capital at 7,000.
According to Viasna, nearly 14,900 people have been detained since the election, and 91 of them have been declared political prisoners.
Several journalists who covered the protests for Belarusian online media outlets were sentenced Monday to 13 to 15 days in jail.
As EU rejects Belarus election result, the country’s beleaguered president looks to Moscow for backing.
Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania after leaving Belarus in fear for her safety, has threatened to call a nationwide strike unless Lukashenko resigns, releases political prisoners and halts the crackdown on protesters.
“If our demands aren’t fulfilled by Oct. 25, the entire country will peacefully take to the streets,” she said in a statement last week. “On Oct. 26, a national strike of all enterprises will begin, all roads will be blocked, sales in state-owned stores will collapse.”
She said authorities have released Ilya Salei, a lawyer for her top associate, Maria Kolesnikova, from detention.
Kolesnikova was jailed last month on charges of undermining state security, which could bring a five-year prison term if convicted. Salei also was detained on the same charge.
On Monday, authorities released from jail Vitaly Shklyarov, a Russian political consultant who also holds Belarusian citizenship, and Lilia Vlasova, a prominent member of the opposition’s Coordination Council, which was formed to push for a transition of power. Both were detained earlier this year and will remain under house arrest.
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