World » Former USSR
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Belarussian opposition took to the streets to rehearse Lukashenko's ousting

The rally was brutally stifled by special units of the Belarussian police

Belarussian opposition managed to summon about 2,000 of its supporters to gather in the central squares of Minsk last weekend. The crowd was too small to start up a coup d'etat, but the opposition learned firsthand what the Belarussian authorities were likely to do about similar acts of protest in the future. The rally was fiercely stifled by special units of the Belarussian police.

According to Gazeta.ru, the latest events sent a signal to the Belarussian opposition as to the authorities' plans to handle similar situations next year. The above newspaper speculates that a serious attempt to topple the Lukashenko regime might take place on March 25th, 2006. The Belarussian People's Republic was proclaimed on March 25th, 1918. Local democrats treasure the day as a date when the first independent Belarussian state came into being. In the meantime, Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, calls the Belarussian People's Republic a nuisance.

The former deputy of Belarus Supreme Coucil Andrei Klimov was behind the “rehearsal” of the public protest. He claims the next final stage of the Belarussian revolution will happen next year. “I will make Mr. Lukashenko step down, and we will have a truly democratic presidential election in 2006,” says he. His ally Nikolai Statkevich, a leader of the Belarussian Social Democratic party, is not so optimistic about the future. “The Belarussian authorities are afraid of the people taking to the streets following the events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, they are trying to intimidate the people to make them stay in because the people are the only threat to the regime,” says he.

The protesters gathered in the Oktyabrskaya Square located some 300 meters from the President's palace. The police cordoned off the area in the morning but they could not stop 2,000 people from emerging in the square by midday.

Small businessmen were the first to show up at the rally. They were apparently enraged by a new VAT legislation that came into effect earlier this year. As a result of the new law, about 150,000 of Belarussian entrepreneurs were ready to file for bankruptcy for they had to pay 18% of VAT twice (first time in Russia where they buy goods by wholesale, and then one more time in Belarus). Within minutes members of a youth organization “Zubr” (Bison) joined them carrying banners that read “Down with Lukashenko!” and “Are we worse in any way than the Kyrgyz people?”

The special police units began to squeeze the protesters from the square at that point. The police used batons for dispersing those who offered resistance. The policemen snatched at the portraits of political prisoners and banners to tear them to pieces. The protesters “shot back” by hurling snowballs.

The protesters were trying to get back to the square for more than half an hour. The police pulled out the most active ones from the crowd and took them away to police vehicles. The portraits of political prisoners and the posters were torn to shreds. About 30 protesters were beaten up by the police and taken to holding cells. They will be tried for “organizing group actions against the public order or taking an active part in the above”, a crime that can entail an imprisonment ranging from 6 months to 3 years.

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