The Belarusian opposition is planning another large Sunday demonstration against President Alexander Lukashenko, this time under the threat of live ammunition from the police, who had already put down the previous rally last Sunday.
This protest action is also the first of any scale since the ultimatum set for Mr. Lukashenko, in power since 1994, by the leading figure of the opposition Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, a refugee in Lithuania. She gave the president until October 25 to step down, otherwise she will call on the country to take to the streets and a general strike.
The 66-year-old president, under unprecedented pressure since the controversial presidential election on August 9, has shown no intention of complying with the demands of his detractors, on the contrary.
All Belarusian opposition figures are now detained or in exile abroad. And last Sunday, the weekly protest in Minsk was violently suppressed by police, who used water cannons and stun grenades against crowds and arrested hundreds of people. This intervention was the most brutal in weeks.
On Monday, the Interior Ministry warned that the police will not hesitate from now on to resort “if necessary” to fire with live ammunition, which would constitute a serious escalation of the crisis.
The authorities, who accuse the West of fomenting protests to bring down Alexander Lukashenko, justified this decision by assuring that the demonstrations had become “organized and extremely radical” with “throwing stones, bottles and knives” at the riot forces, as well. only “barricades and braziers” in the streets.
The head of the KGB, Ivan Tertel, for his part assured Saturday to be aware of an “imminent provocation” in preparation in order to “destabilize” Belarus.
“This march will not be different from the others (…) it’s just another attempt to scare,” Dmitri Malets, 33, an opposition supporter, told AFP.
Belarusian police had already fired live ammunition in early August, during the first demonstrations repressed by force in Brest, in the south of the country. A protester had then died of his injuries.
Other, smaller gatherings have been repressed by police since the last giant demonstration on Sunday.
On Monday, police dispersed a protest by retirees with tear gas and stun grenades, marching in red and white opposition through the streets of Minsk.
On Saturday, during the traditional demonstration of women and students, several people including journalists were arrested.
In his ultimatum set for October 25, the opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, in addition to the resignation of Mr. Loukachenko, demanded an end to the repression of demonstrations and the release of all “political prisoners”.
“If our demands are not met by October 25, the whole country will take to the streets peacefully,” she warned Tuesday. “And on October 26, a nationwide all-business strike will begin, all roads will be blocked, sales in state stores will collapse.”
Since the beginning of the protest movement, hundreds of demonstrators, leaders of political movements, trade unions and journalists have been arrested.
While Lukashenko enjoys the support of Moscow, he is under threat of sanctions from the European Union.
The EU has already sanctioned 40 regime officials, including the interior minister and his deputy, accused of being involved in the repression and rigging of the August 9 presidential election, the result of which Europeans do not recognize.
Mr. Tikhanovskaïa has increased the number of trips abroad, garnering support from Berlin and Paris in particular, but Moscow considers these interventions as interference and considers that the opponent and former presidential candidate is not a legitimate interlocutor.