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Protests in Belarus Protests in Belarus  (AFP or licensors)

Belarus: Russia provides security as protests grow

Pope Francis has called for “dialogue, the rejection of violence, respect for justice and rights” in Belarus as mass protests continue to take place following last week’s disputed presidential election. Speaking the faithful in St Peter’s Square following the recitation of the Angelus, the Pope said he was following the attentively the post-electoral situation in that country.” Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators in Belarus have retaken to the streets to demand that the nation's authoritarian leader resigns after a presidential vote they claimed was rigged. In response, President Alexander Lukashenko declared that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had agreed to provide security assistance to restore order if Belarus requested.

By Stefan Bos

Lukashenko's comments came amid mounting pressure on the embattled head-of-state to step down.  Thousands rally in the Belarusian capital Minsk. They gather at a makeshift memorial at the exact spot where 34-year-old protestor Alexander Taraikovsky died last Monday in clashes with police. Many bring flowers.

Belarusian police claim he died when an explosive device he intended to throw at police blew up in his hand. But his partner, Elena German, told reporters that when she saw his body in a morgue on Friday, his hands showed no damage. She claimed he had a perforation in his chest that she believes is a bullet wound.

People here express their anger over what they view as an authoritarian president's ongoing crackdown on opposition demonstrators. Alexander Lukashenko.

Some male protesters pulled off their shirts to show bruises they said came from police beatings. Others carried pictures of loved ones beaten so severely they could not attend the rally. Many also participated in Taraikovsky's funeral.

There have been seven consecutive days of massive protests prompted by the country's August 9 presidential election results. Officials claimed the 65-year-old Lukashenko won a sixth term in a landslide.

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He warned that everyone is fighting for markets to sell, for instance, tractors. And Lukashenko suggested that if the strikes continue, Belarus may not be able to "kick-start" its production.

However, the European Union and the United States have urged him to respect the people's will. Speaking in Poland, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern about the reported crackdown in protestors. "We've spent these last days consulting with our European partners." He said he had personal meetings and by telephone "trying to understand precisely what's happening," he told reporters.

"The common objective is to support the Belarusian people to achieve their own sovereignty, their own freedom, to build out what you're seeing happen in these protests. These people are demanding the simple things that every human being wants: the right to have determination for themselves about the nature of their government," Pompeo added.

"And so we urge the leadership of Belarus to broaden the circle, as the foreign minister said, to engage with civil society in a way that reflects the central understandings that the Belarusian people are demanding."
The international community is also considering stepping up sanctions against the authoritarian leader and other senior officials.

Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya from Belarus had called for peaceful rallies across the country this weekend. And there are no signs yet that the mounting protests are losing momentum.  

16 August 2020, 14:40