Belarusians put together to march in help of ‘political prisoners’

Earlier this week Belarusian authorities withdrew the recognition of all foreign journalists.

Minsk, PA: Belarusians are preparing for Sunday to take to the streets to help prisoners who were citizens of the Soviet Union, with a recent visit last week to Brussels and Washington after the imposition of sanctions on cases re-elected by the powerful Alexander Lukashenko.

Opposition groups calling for an end to Lukashenko’s rule have been on high alert since he won the election on August 9, with about 100,000 or more people marching in the streets every Sunday.

Russia has backed its former ally Lukashenko, giving him money and promising him military aid in the event of a revolt. Ahead of the recent protests on Sunday from 1100 GMT, the main protagonist, Nexta Live, which connected protesters with more than two million people, urged Belarusians to protest against “political prisoners.”

Nexta said the authorities had opened more than 250 lawsuits against Lukashenko’s candidates, activists, bloggers and Belarusians.

“The authorities have taken the people,” he said. “We have not forgotten them and we want freedom for all political prisoners!” According to the Viasna rights group, there are now 77 “political prisoners” in Belarus, including opposition blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was not allowed to represent the president, as well as opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who tore up her passport to prevent him from being deported.

The list also includes Vitali Shkliarov, a Belarusian-US academic, who has served as US President Senator Bernie Sanders and advised Russian opponents. He was arrested in late July after visiting his elderly parents.

On Friday, the United States and the EU hit Belarus with long-awaited sanctions for vote-rigging and plotting to favor the opposition, following officials – but Lukashenko himself. Minsk has urgently announced “sanctions” against the EU, although it is not clear what form this will take or who will drop it.

Earlier this week Belarusian authorities withdrew the recognition of all foreign journalists. In recent weeks the interior ministry has used water cannons, ammunition and rubber bullets against peace activists and arrested thousands of people, many of whom complain of torture and ill-treatment. Several people have died in the process.

After blogger Tikhanovsky, his wife Svetlana Tikhanovskaya rushed to his place and claimed victory over Lukashenko. After hiding a EU member from Lithuania, the 38-year-old political leader has been holding talks to bolster Belarus’s opposition allies.

He has already met with French President Emmanuel Macron and will travel to Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday. Student Dmitry Demeshkevich, who wanted to take to the streets on Sunday, said he was aware of the sanctions and Tikhanovskaya’s upcoming talks with Merkel.

He said the receptions were a sign of support but “nothing more” as it is not known if Western methods combined with travel restrictions would work. “It’s best to start a conversation with Lukashenko about his release,” he said.

“Europe can be a mediator but it is up to us to stop it.” Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet Union for 26 years, has criticized Western and NATO allies for supporting the protesters and trying to destabilize the country.

He warned the military after voting and Belarus this month will hold hostilities with several other former Soviet states including Russia in what is being described as a protest against NATO.

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