Belarus Allows Police to Use Firearms Against Protesters

Belarus’ government says police will now be permitted to use firearms against protesters “if need be” as demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko continued Monday.The Interior Ministry said in a statement Monday that the rallies “have become organized and extremely radical.””In this regard, the Interior Ministry’s employees and internal troops will not leave the streets and, if necessary, will use special equipment and military weapons,” it said.The ministry also announced Monday that more than 700 people were detained in demonstrations a day earlier. It said that of those detained Sunday, 570 of them were still in custody awaiting a court hearing.More than 2,000 mostly elderly people took part Monday in a “march of pensioners” against the government in the capital, Minsk. They chanted “go away” and some waved flags symbolizing the opposition.Videos from the demonstration showed police responding with flare guns and tear gas.Large protests have taken place each weekend since Lukashenko claimed victory in a disputed Aug. 9 election. Demonstrators have demanded his resignation as well as the release of political prisoners. Riot police clashed with protesting pensioners in central Minsk, Belarus, Oct. 12, 2020.Earlier Monday, European Union foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on Lukashenko as well as other senior officials.Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting of EU foreign policy chiefs in Luxemburg, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that renewed violence against protesters in Minsk could not be ignored.”The violence continues, perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime — there are still arrests of peaceful demonstrators, so we have to consider how to proceed,” Maas, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said.”I have suggested that we establish a new package of sanctions. And Lukashenko should be among the people who will then be sanctioned,” Maas said.The EU had previously imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 40 Lukashenko allies, but did not include Lukashenko in the list.On Saturday, Lukashenko held an unusual meeting with jailed opposition leaders.“The goal of the president was to hear everyone’s opinion,” his office said of the visit.Lukashenko’s main opposition candidate in the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is now based in Lithuania after fleeing Belarus for her safety. Lukashenko maintains he won the poll in a landslide — garnering 80% of all ballots — despite widespread claims at home and abroad that the vote was heavily rigged to keep him in power. He has been in office for 26 years.  Public anger has grown over the crackdown in the wake of the protests that have seen more than 7,500 arrests and police violence against demonstrators.    Hundreds have emerged from police custody with bruises and tales of torture at the hands of Lukashenko’s security agents. Lukashenko has said the protests are encouraged and supported by the West and accused NATO of moving forces near Belarusian borders. The alliance has denied the accusations. 

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