USA

Fourth Straight Night of Protests in Belarus

Thousands protested in Belarus for the fourth straight night Wednesday against what they said was the fraudulent election of President Alexander Lukashenko for a sixth term.

Demonstrators in Minsk formed human chains to try to block police from approaching.

Witnesses said on one street in the capital riot police fired rubber bullets at people who stood on their balconies to cheer the demonstrators.

Earlier Wednesday, groups of women also formed human chains and carried bouquets of flowers as police stood by, making no effort to disperse them.

Similar demonstrations were held in other Belarusian cities.

As many as 6,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured after police used tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets to break up the nightly marches.

They include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Vital Tsyhankou, who was badly beaten by police, the Associated Press reported, along with two independent Belarusian television reporters.

People flocked to the jails to look for missing relatives.

Lukashenko has said he will not be intimidated.

“The core of these so-called protesters are people with a criminal past and (those who are) currently unemployed,” he said Wednesday.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has called for a meeting of foreign ministers Friday to talk about Belarus. He is threatening sanctions against "those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests and falsification of election results.”

The Belarusian election commission declared Lukashenko the winner of Sunday’s presidential election with 80 percent of the vote and 10 percent for the only serious challenger, former teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

She entered the race at the last minute after police arrested her husband, an opposition blogger who was planning to run for president.

Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania Tuesday for what she said was the safety of her children.

Lukashenko has frequently been called Europe’s last dictator because of his suppression of free speech and human rights while showing little tolerance for dissent. He has ruled Belarus since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many of the protesters are also angry at his refusal to take any significant action to fight the coronavirus.

Lukashenko has sought to lighten his image as a brutal dictator who cozies up to the Kremlin by seeking closer relations with the European Union and United States.

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