Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has said she will “stand till the end” in protests over disputed vote and the violence that resulted in the aftermath. Talking to BBC, she said if the protest movement is back down now, they would be “slaves”.
As demonstrations and strikes continue, President Alexander Lukashenko seems unwavering and has given no signal of stepping down nearly 2 weeks after the polls were conducted. He has vowed to meet the anarchists and those fueling unrest with iron hand in coming days. Tikhanovskaya who leads the opposition drew large crowds before eventually getting exiled to Lithuania a day after the Aug 9 elections. She cited the fear for her family’s safety as the main reason behind her decision to leave the country. The runner up says she will go back to her homeland when she feels safe.
Lukashenko’s landslide victory was marred with nationwide protests and social unrest resulting in police brutality which only contributed to more demonstrators and opposition from public. Last weekend alone nearly 200,000 anti-Lukashenko demonstrators took the streets in central Minsk to record their protest.
As mass strikes continue to happen, Tikhanovskaya said the Belarusians had voted for her not to become a President but to show their aspirations for a real change in the country.
“They were shouting for their future, for their wish to live in a free country, against violence, for their rights,” she said. She added that despite fierce police crackdown, her voters and loyalists carried the march for change.
“We have no right to step back now – if not now, we will be slaves and our people understand this and I’m sure we will stand till the end.” Earlier through a video message, Tikhanovskaya urged her supporters to step up the demonstrations despite the state brutality. Authorities in the country are intimidating the public and exerting continuous pressure on protesters as President Lukashenko tries to regain control and reassert his legitimacy after elections. He was confident that crisis would soon be over and any remaining unrest would be crushed if not stalled.
“This is my problem, which I should resolve, and we are resolving it,” the president said while on a visit to a state food factory. “And believe me, in the coming day it will be resolved.”
Meanwhile, allies of Tikhanovskaya that are members of the opposition Coordination Council have been ordered to appear before the Belarus Investigative Committee (SK) for allegedly pursing an illegal power grab. Maxim Znak, a lawyer of the newly formed council and Sergei Dylevsky, a chief architect of the strikes at Minsk Tractor Factory were summoned for an investigation on Friday. The council which also consists of prominent Belarusian cultural figures was established to ensure a peaceful transition and go for re-elections.
The chief prosecutor initiated a criminal probe against the council and condemned it as unconstitutional. While Lukashenko has called some of the Tikhanovskaya supporters “Nazis”. Maxim Znak on Friday said he feared his arrest. The loyal factory workers at state-owned company joined the demonstrations revealing their defiance against Lukashenko. But reports say the number of strikers has been dropped not withstanding the pressure tactics applied from Lukashenko regime. State TV workers who walked out of their offices were told they were fired from the jobs.
Riot police appeared to crackdown on the Minsk Tractor Factory and eventually arrested the pro-Tikhanovskaya protesters from the scene. European Union leaders and US have called for a re-election and considered the earlier election as rigged in favor of Lukashenko. Russian President Putin also discussed the Belarus crisis with his security chiefs on Friday.
A Kremlin statement later said “they stressed that any outside interference in the republic’s affairs is unacceptable and that the only way to settle all of Belarus’s internal problems is through dialogue between the country’s leadership and its citizens”.
European Union has announced sanctions against Lukashenko government.