Accessibility links

Belarus: Scores Arrested, Opposition Leader Hospitalized After Minsk Protests

Belarusian authorities have so far sentenced 12 people -- including some opposition leaders -- who were arrested yesterday during a second night of protests against the results of parliamentary elections and a constitutional referendum. Sentences ranged from 10 to 15 days in jail, some including fines. One opposition leader is in hospital after being beaten by police. Protesters say the 17 October vote was fraudulent. Western observers also say the poll fell far short of international democratic standards.

20 October 2004 -- For the second night in a row, hundreds of protesters demonstrated in Minsk against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the results of the 17 October vote. According to electoral officials, 77 percent of eligible voters supported a referendum to scrap presidential term limits, clearing the way for Lukashenka -- who has ruled Belarus since 1994 -- to run for president again in 2006. The opposition also won no seats in parliament in simultaneous legislative elections.

About 500 people, mostly students -- chanting "Without Lukashenka!" and "Long Live Belarus!" -- marched from Minsk's main square down the capital's central street. They carried a banner that said "Down With Tyranny!" and waved the European Union flag alongside that of an opposition youth group, Zubr.
"People are afraid, and that's the point -- people are very afraid."

Belarusian Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov says 46 protesters were detained after clashes with police, including United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka and two other opposition leaders, Mikalay Statkevich, and Pavel Sevyarynets.

Alyaksandr Sosnov is deputy director of the Minsk-based Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies in Minsk. He says young people are the most active participants in the protests.

"For two days now, young people have been beaten, but they continue to gather. They are supported not only by young people but also by known politicians, such as Statkevich and Lyabedzka. Yesterday, Lyabedzka was injured and taken to the hospital," Sosnov said.

Lyabedzka is recuperating from broken ribs and a concussion suffered during his arrest.

Sosnov says many Belarusians understand the election results were forged but are afraid to protest.

"People are afraid, and that's the point -- people are very afraid. People are intimidated by different special services. Only the most desperate go to protest. That's why the numbers are so small," Sosnov said.

Meanwhile, the European Union is expressing its concern about the situation in Belarus. A Polish member of the European Parliament, Bogdan Klich, just returned from Belarus, where he helped to monitor the vote. He spoke to reporters today in Brussels.

Klich says the demonstrations indicate that what he calls a "new political situation" is developing in Belarus.

"One could expect social tensions in Belarus. That's why the European Union should be aware that in the near future there can be local instability on our eastern border," Klich said.

Klich recommends that the EU step up its support of Belarusian civil society groups and the country's independent media. He says he has written to the EU's external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, asking for funding to set up an independent radio station and perhaps a TV channel broadcasting to Belarus.

Klich says the three biggest factions in the European Parliament -- the Conservatives, Socialists, and Liberals -- appear to support the inclusion of Belarus on the agenda of the parliament's plenary session next week. Diplomats say the situation in Belarus and possible EU sanctions may also be discussed at an EU foreign ministers meeting in early November.

(RFE/RL's Belarus Service and RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas contributed to this report.)

See also: Lukashenka Prepares Ground For Life Presidency

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.