Tuesday, March 21, 2006

DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE IN BELARUS

According to ABC News:
Thousands of opposition supporters gathered in the center of the Belarus' capital Monday for a second night, hoping their protest would help overturn a presidential election that the U.S. said was flawed by a "climate of fear."

The United States and the European Union called for new elections and threatened sanctions on Belarus, where the numbers of demonstrators was smaller than on election night and prospects for a Ukraine-style "Orange Revolution" seemed remote.

With overnight temperatures at 28 degrees, protesters set up a dozen small tents and vowed to turn the demonstration into a round-the-clock presence. Most of the tents were draped with historic national flags favored by critics of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has scrapped them for a Soviet-style version.

"This is our last chance," said Vladimir Fivsky, a 20-year-old student who had wrapped one of the red-striped white flags around his shoulders and wore a pin in the same colors saying: "For Freedom!" He said came to the square to protest because he "had enough" after 12 years of Lukashenko's repressive rule.

The small but assertive move could rally others to the cause. But it could also prove unacceptable to authorities. Officials put on a show of force, with busloads of riot police fanning out into nearby streets and courtyards and preventing people from approaching the main square.
ABC don't provide any photos, but br23 blog comes to the rescue, with a couple of great shots:



Judge for yourself whether this protest is, as ABC puts it, "a small but assertive move".

Fewer protesters have turned out than did yesterday, but it must be worrying for Lukashenko nevertheless. Another photo, this time of yesterday's demonstration and some interesting stats to mull over, also taken from br23 blog:


[Minsk. October square. 22:00 Minsk time.]
[Est. 25,000 - 35,000 protesters showed up in Minsk center.]

Official results: Lukashenka will get 85%-90% of the vote.

Unofficial exit polls: Lukashenka got only about 45-47%.
And united opposition leader Milinkevich — about 30%.

Independent exit polls in Belarusian embassies across Europe:
Exit poll in Lithuania: 36% voted for Milinkevich.
Exit poll in Belgium: 62% for Milinkevich.
Exit poll in Germany: more than 72% for Milinkevich.
Exit poll in Czech Republic: 81% for Milinkevich.
Exit poll in Poland: 88% for Milinkevich.
A Times article of two days ago reported:
Lukashenko, who has ruled his impoverished country of 10m since 1994, issued a decree last year giving himself the power to order troops to fire on unarmed civilians. He looks unlikely to give up without a fight.

In what many saw as a dress rehearsal for today’s demonstration, snipers were positioned around the square for the first time last month during a mass gathering of regional politicians loyal to his regime.

The election campaign has been anything but fair. Dozens of opposition leaders and youth activists critical of the president — a mustachioed former prison guard and communist collective farm boss — have been harassed, badly beaten and arrested by police.

At an opposition rally last week on Minsk’s outskirts, the two front rows were filled by burly security services men with shaved heads and leather jackets. They were the only ones not to clap the speakers.

To prevent people joining the protests, services to train stations and bus stops around October Square will be suspended from this morning. Tens of thousands of police officers are expected to seal off streets leading to the square.
I shall be writing to my fellow organisers of the March for Free Expression to encourage them to promote this cause on Saturday. The Trafalgar Square rally is just as much about the right to free expression as it is supportive of our right to free speech.

When even a joke about the President can land you in jail, the people of Belarus deserve our full support.

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