MINSK – Thousands of Belarusians have bid farewell to Raman Bandarenka, the slain anti-government protester whose killing intensified ongoing protests demanding the resignation of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka over a disputed election.
Many in the crowd outside of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Minsk on November 20 raised their arms and chanted, "You are a hero!" and "Long live Belarus!"
Bandarenka's death has been a flashpoint months into almost daily demonstrations following a presidential election on August 9 that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept.
After Bandarenka's body was brought out of the church and taken by car to the Northern Cemetery of Minsk, thousands of people followed on foot to the burial site.
The 31-year-old Bandarenka died in a hospital on November 12 after he was reportedly beaten by masked security forces.
Bandarenka's last known written words -- "I'm going out" -- have turned into one of the slogans of the ongoing protests against Lukashenka.
Several protesters have been killed and thousands of people arrested since authorities declared Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, the landslide winner of the vote.
There have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.
Most of the country's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers have agreed to expand sanctions on Belarus to include businesses in response to the “brutality of authorities.”
Noting that previous sanctions on Lukashenka and dozens of senior officials had failed to halt repression, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on November 19 that the new set of sanctions “should go not only to the individuals but also to institutions and entrepreneurs, and firms.”
The move "will affect normal economic activity" in the country, Borrell said.
He did not elaborate on the sanctions to target companies and businesspeople supporting Lukashenka's regime.
The EU foreign ministers, meeting by videoconference, considered that “there is no positive sign at all” from Minsk, Borrell told a news conference.
The EU has already slapped visa bans and asset freezes on Lukashenka and 53 officials over their role in the crackdown on protest and the “falsification” of the vote. The United States, Canada, Britain, and other Western countries have also imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials.
The next meeting of EU foreign ministers is to take place on December 7, when they are expected to back proposals by the European Commission to scale back cooperation with Belarus.
Belarus opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left Belarus for neighboring Lithuania due to security concerns for her and her family, urged EU leaders earlier this week to impose "targeted financial sanctions against people...who are in the pockets of Lukashenka.”
Tsikhanouskaya is also calling on the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) "to be firm" as they consider pulling the 2021 World Championships from the country.
The Zurich-based IIHF has said it is having "serious discussions" over the status of the tournament because of issues surrounding protests over the election, Latvia's threat to withdraw as cohost, and the coronavirus pandemic.