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Belarus: Exiled opposition leader calls for peaceful rallies

The exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya from Belarus has called for peaceful rallies across the country this weekend, amid evidence of massive torture of anti-government protestors by security forces.

By Stefan Bos

After she was forced to leave for Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya urged her supporters to protest peacefully for a transfer of power. "Human life is the most valuable of all. We need to stop the violence on the street of Belarusian cities and towns. I call for the government to stop the violence and start a dialogue," she said.

"I am appealing to appealing to mayors of all cities and towns on the 15th and 16th of August to organize peaceful mass gatherings in every town," Tikhanovskaya added.  

The 37-year-old former English teacher and mother-of-two campaigned on behalf of her jailed husband, a popular blogger. "We saw new peaceful actions on the streets of our cities. The chains of solidarity by women with flowers, for instance, are not belligerent. They show the whole world that we Belarusians are open, honest people, and we are against violence, " she stressed in the video message.      

Authorities claimed that the authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko won the presidential elections with 80 percent of the vote. But Tikhanovskaya stressed that in areas where counting was carried out correctly, she received 60 to 70 percent of the vote and in one region even 90 percent of the counted ballots.

However, after being held for hours by authorities for protesting the results, she was forced to flee to Lithuania. Some 7,000 people were arrested in protests that emerged following the election.


Many of the former detainees have spoken of torture at the hands of the security services. Among them, Sergiy Meyanets, who showed reporters a doctor's certificate confirming torture injuries. "They began asking who the organizers of the protests are. He electrocuted me about ten times. In the legs, near the heart and my arms," Meyanets said.

"Whenever we moved or said a word, we would get hit with batons straight away. He [the police officer] even threatened to burn us alive," the activist recalled.    

Advocacy group Amnesty International said accounts from released detainees suggested "widespread torture." As protests continued for a sixth day and walkouts from state factories grew on Friday, European Union foreign ministers held an emergency video meeting. They agreed to prepare new sanctions on Belarusian officials responsible for what they called "violence and falsification."

Amid the tensions, the increasingly isolated President Lukashenko released 32 Russians accused of being mercenaries to undermine state security by organizing mass riots.

Moscow has denied these accusations. It suggested that the 33 detainees –including one Belarussian citizen who wasn't transferred to Russia – were innocent security personnel.

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15 August 2020, 14:38