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Lukashenka meets jailed opposition, Tsikhanouskaya sets ultimatum

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka has visited his political opposition in jail on the 10th of October. This is a ground breaking event considering the months of anti-government protests, arrests and torture of citizens and politicians. Belarussians are demanding Lukashenka to step down to make place for fair and democratic elections.

Lukashenka visited the KGB jail in capital city Minsk to discuss constitutional reforms with his detained opposition. The details of the meeting were kept secret, but in a released short video the participants looked pale and sombre. The president can be heard saying that he tried to convince everybody to see things more broadly and that a constitution cannot be rewritten in the streets. The latter of which referring to the continuous protests against him. At one point in the video, some of the 11 political opposition figures can be seen laughing, but since the sound was muted at that stage, it is not clear what the reason was, making it seem like some sort of propaganda.

The actual President?

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is one of the few opposition leaders not in prison. Her followers claim that she is the actual winner of the last presidential elections on August 9th. From here exile residence in Lithuania, she responded to the news by saying it “showed we are on the right track”, but that “you cannot have a dialogue in a prison cell”. Another political opposition figure is Pavel Latusko, while being in exile in Poland, he stated that Lukashenka showed weakness by talking to the very people he criminalised.

An ultimatum

Demonstrations continue, despite the dangerous atmosphere. Water cannons and batons are used against the protestors and many are beaten up. Three days after the meeting in jail, Tsikhanouskaya gave Lukashenka a final offer. He either resigns before the 26th of October, or “all enterprises will begin a strike, all roads will be blocked, state-owned stores will no longer have any sales”. Lukashenka’s response is not known yet.

Some Belarussian officials are not able to travel to European Union (EU) countries any longer due to a travel ban that the Union imposed on them. The freezing of assets is also one of the regulations. Since the 12th of October, Lukashenka himself was added to this list as well.

Thousands arrested

Tensions in Belarus escalated after the presidential elections. Lukashenka claimed to have won with a landslide, but many Belarussians did not believe this. In addition, both the EU and the United States did not accept the outcome. As a reaction, over a 100 thousand people gathered in Minsk. Lukashenka’s answer was harsh. Almost all political opposition leaders have been arrested since then, together with thousands of protestors. Many complain about excessive force used against them, as well as torture once being jailed.

Lukashenka became president in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union three years prior. Under his continuous rule, Belarus maintained a communist image. The country has strong secret police, the biggest media outlets are pro-government and many manufactures are state owned or controlled. His firm rule that did not accept much foreign interfering gave him many supporters even though election outcomes were never thought of as fair. However, due to increased corruption, poverty and lack of prosperity, Belarussians started to turn against him.

Sources: BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, DW, France24, Politico, Reuters1, Reuters2, Reuters3, Reuters4

Image: Wikimedia