Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures while speaking to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, during their talks in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. On Thursday, Russia's Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin traveled to the Belarusian capital to discuss conditions for Belarus to refinance a Russian loan. (Alexander Astafyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Students, It Workers Keep Pressure On Defiant Belarus Leader

September 04, 2020 - 6:16 am

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators rallied again in Belarus' capital Friday to protest the disputed reelection of the nation's authoritarian president, while police dispersed university students attempting to show solidarity with peers who were detained earlier in the week.

Information technology workers and other protesters formed “chains of solidarity” in various parts of Minsk to keep pushing for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, who extended his 26-year rule in an Aug. 9 election that the opposition challenged as rigged.

Belarusians have turned out in en masse for nearly four weeks to protest the official election results that gave Lukashenko a sixth term with 80% of the vote.

During the first few days of post-election protests, police detained nearly 7,000 people and beat hundreds, drawing international outrage and causing the anti-government demonstrations to swell. The government has since shifted tactics, seeking to squelch protests with threats, the selective detention of protesters and the prosecution of activists.

On Friday, police entered the State Linguistics University in Minsk to disperse an action by students who were expressing solidarity with classmates detained earlier. Officers rounded up several participants.

Belarusian authorities have specifically targeted members of the Coordination Council that opposition activists set up after the election to try to negotiate a transition of power. Two of its members were given 10-day jail sentences on charges of staging unsanctioned protests last week, and a court in Minsk handed them new 15-day sentences Thursday.

Earlier this week, six Belarusian journalists were detained while covering a student demonstration and charged with taking part in unsanctioned protests. During a Friday court hearing, police officers in ski masks testified against them via a video link. The journalists could get 15-day jail sentences, if convicted.

Authorities also have revoked the accreditation of many Belarusian journalists and deported some foreign journalists, including two Moscow-based Associated Press journalists. AP’s Belarusian journalists were among those told their press credentials had been revoked.

On Thursday, two popular TV anchors who resigned from state TV in solidarity with the protesters were handed 10-day sentences for taking part in unauthorized rallies.

“They beat journalists, they put them on trial, strip them of their credentials and deport them from the country,” Andrei Bastunets, head of the Belarusian Associaton of Journalists, told The Associated Press. “The law doesn’t work, they accuse journalists with cameras of coordinating the protests.”

The United States and the European Union have criticized the Aug. 9 presidential election as neither free nor fair and urged Belarusian authorities to engage in a dialogue with the opposition, a demand Lukashenko has dismissed.

Facing Western criticism, the Belarusian leader has sought to secure support from Russia, which has a union agreement with Belarus envisaging close political, economic and military ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is ready to send police to Belarus at Lukashenko’s request if the demonstrations turn violent.

On a visit to Moscow on Friday, the Belarusian defense minister accused the West of waging a “hybrid war against the Belarusian state,” applying unprecedented diplomatic, political and economic pressure.

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Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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Follow AP's coverage of Belarus at https://apnews.com/Belarus

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