Belarus president condemns EU leaders for ‘fomenting unrest’

Belarus president condemns EU leaders for ‘fomenting unrest’
Belarus Europe

The authoritarian leader of Belarus has complained that encouragement from abroad has fuelled daily protests demanding his resignation.

President Alexander Lukashenko’s comments came as European Union leaders held an emergency summit on the country’s contested presidential election and fierce crackdown on demonstrators.

Mr Lukashenko ordered his government to relay “the official point of view” on the post-election protests to the leaders of France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine and to “warn them – no need to be shy – about the responsibility for fomenting unrest”.

Russia echoed his sentiment, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov alleging “attempts of direct interference” in Belarus’s internal affairs.

European Council president Charles Michel, top of screen, speaks with EU leaders during an EU summit in video conference format (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

Mr Lukashenko’s statement at a meeting with government officials came after his top challenger in the August 9 election urged the EU not to recognise the official results, which gave the country’s longtime president his sixth consecutive term with 80% of the vote and the candidate who finished second 10%.

“I call on you not to recognise these fraudulent elections. Mr Lukashenko has lost all the legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in a video statement released before the start of the EU summit.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the presidential race after her husband was jailed and drew tens of thousands of supporters at campaign events, dismissed the election results as falsified and demanded a recount.

She left Belarus for Lithuania last week, a move her campaign said was made under duress.

On Monday, Ms Tsikhanouskaya’s associates announced the formation of a “co-ordination council” to help plot a peaceful solution to the political crisis in Belarus.

The council convened for the first time on Wednesday.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya released a video statement (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya campaign office via AP)

“It will lead the process of a peaceful transition of power via dialogue. It will immediately call for new fair and democratic presidential elections with international supervision,” Ms Tsikhanouskaya, 37, said in the latest video statement.

Mr Lukashenko, 65, has repeatedly rejected demands to step down and bristled at the idea of talks with the opposition.

He denounced the co-ordination council as “an attempt to seize power” in the country and threatened prosecution for creating “alternative (government) bodies”.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested over the election results across Belarus.

During the first four days of demonstrations, police detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs.

At least three protesters died.

This week, workers at several major industrial plants, including a huge factory that accounts for a fifth of the world’s potash fertiliser output, went on strike to also demand the embattled president’s resignation.

On Wednesday morning, protest rallies resumed in the capital Minsk for an 11th straight day, some of which police moved to break up after nearly a week of not interfering with the peaceful protests.

Protesters gather in front of the Minsk Tractor Works Plant to support workers leaving the plant after their shift (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

Several dozen people were detained in front of the Minsk Tractor Factory, where workers have been on strike since Monday, Sergei Dylevsky, leader of the factory’s strike committee, told the Associated Press.

The country’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that police detained only two protesters and pushed the remaining crowd aside.

Police blocked all entrances to the Janka Kupala National Theatre in Minsk, where the troupe on Tuesday gave notice en masse after its director, Pavel Latushko, was fired for siding with protesters.

Actors who arrived at the theatre on Wednesday morning were not allowed in.

“It’s unprecedented that in the 21st century law enforcement is deployed to a cultural institution. The situation speaks for itself,” Mr Latushko said.

Western officials refused to recognise the election as free or fair and criticised the violent crackdown.

The EU is preparing a list of Belarusian officials who could be blacklisted from Europe over their roles.

In a letter inviting leaders of the bloc to the teleconference taking place on Wednesday, European Council president Charles Michel said that “what we have witnessed in Belarus is not acceptable”.

He said the “violence against peaceful protesters was shocking and has to be condemned. Those responsible must be held to account”.

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