Belarusian police fire live rounds at protesters

Protests have continued in Minsk following the results of Belarus' presidential election | Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images

Belarusian police fire live rounds at protesters

Protests are continuing despite a violent crackdown by authorities.



Belarusian security forces opened fire on demonstrators protesting the country’s disputed presidential election, the country’s state-run news agency reported on Wednesday.

The Belarusian interior ministry said the shots were fired in self-defense after police were attacked overnight by demonstrators with metal rods in the western city of Brest.

“Warning shots fired into the air did not stop them. To defend the lives and safety of the police, lethal weapons were fired. One of the attackers was wounded,” said a statement from ministry spokesperson Olga Chemodanova.

There were other violent incidents across the country as police cracked down on protests complaining about Sunday’s election, widely condemned as fraudulent. President Alexander Lukashenko took 80 percent against 10 percent for his opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, according to a preliminary vote count.

Video footage from Minsk showed police pulling drivers from cars and beating them, assaulting people in shopping malls, and storming buildings where people were shouting anti-regime slogans from their balconies. There was also footage of paramilitary police beating people in prison, and bruised young people promising not to continue their protests.

One protester has died and more than 250 have been injured according to the health ministry. The interior ministry said more than 6,000 people have been arrested since the protests began on August 9. The Belarusian Journalists’ Association said that at least 55 reporters have been detained, and many of them have been beaten up.

Lukashenko on Wednesday blamed the protests on “people with the criminal past and currently unemployed.”

Despite the force unleashed by authorities, the demonstrations continued on Wednesday. Hundreds of women wearing white marched down one of the main streets of Minsk to protest the violence. Similar women-led protests were seen in other cities. Another demonstration is planned for Wednesday evening, with calls for traffic to be blocked nationwide.

The violent crackdown is prompting growing calls for the EU to impose sanctions on Belarus and on leading figures supporting Lukashenko.

“Since the 2015 release of political prisoners, the relationship between the EU and Belarus had improved. But without progress on human rights and the rule of law, the EU-Belarus relationship can only get worse,” said a statement from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

“It is against this background that we will be assessing the Belarusian authorities’ actions to address the current situation and conducting an in-depth review of the EU’s relations with Belarus. This may include, inter alia, taking measures against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests, and falsification of election results,” he added.

Linas Linkevičius, the Lithuanian foreign minister, said his country “is considering the possibility of accepting Belarusians, suffering from the ongoing brutalities, on humanitarian grounds.”

Tikhanovskaya sought refuge in Lithuania on Tuesday.

“She is in good spirits. She will speak up in the near future,” Linkevičius said.

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