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Ireland 'deeply troubled' by Belarus' threat to take children from protester parents

More than 700 people were jailed following latest anti-government protests in Belarus, the country’s interior ministry said on Monday.

Belarusian riot police detain demonstrators during an opposition rally
Belarusian riot police detain demonstrators during an opposition rally
Image: AP/PA Images

IRELAND IS “DEEPLY troubled” by threats made by the Belarusian authorities to take children away from parents who protest,  Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne has said. 

Byrne condemned the continued use of state violence against the Belarusian people, marking 100 days since mass protests began after authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won his sixth term in a widely disputed election.

On behalf of the government, Byrne urged Belarusian authorities to end the repression of their citizens, and to seek a peaceful and democratic resolution of the current crisis. 

“Ireland is deeply troubled by threats made by the Belarusian authorities to take away the children of parents who protest. We share the concerns of UN Special Rapporteurs who have highlighted continued violations of children’s rights and the persecution of female human rights defenders in the country,” said Byrne. 

“The people of Belarus alone hold the right to determine the future of their country and a prosperous Belarus is only possible with their consent.”

More than 2,000 pensioners marched in the Belarusian capital Minsk yesterday, demanding the resignation of Lukashenko and a halt to the government’s violent crackdown on dissent.

They carried flowers and red and white flags that have become a symbol of protest.

“Lukashenko, you and my children will remember this disgrace,” said one of the banners the retirees carried.

Such protests have rocked Belarus ever since the 9 August election handed Lukashenko a crushing victory over his widely popular opponent 

She and her supporters refused to recognise the result, saying the vote was riddled with fraud.

Both sides seem to be locked into a continuing cycle of protests and crackdowns, with the opposition turning out thousands in regular marches while the government uses arrests and other intimidation tactics to quash any threats to Lukashenko’s 26-year hold on power.

A nationwide strike called by the opposition did not catch on, although students boycotted classes for a few days.

Authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations, the largest of which attracted up to 200,000 people.

Police used stun grenades, tear gas and truncheons to disperse the rallies and detained thousands, beating many of them brutally.

According to human rights advocates, more than 19,000 people have been detained since the election.

At least four people are reported to have died as a result of the crackdown.

belarus-protests Crowds of retirees marched down the streets of the Belarusian capital on Monday, demanding the resignation of the country's authoritarian president Source: AP/PA Images

Retirees at Monday’s march in Minsk carried portraits of Raman Bandarenka, a 31-year-old opposition supporter who died last week after reportedly being beaten by security forces.

“Why was (Raman) killed?” they chanted, demanding a criminal investigation into his death.

Police did not interfere with the march but harshly dispersed a demonstration in Bandarenka’s memory on Sunday, using stun grenades, tear gas and clubs and beating up protesters in shops and restaurants where they were hiding from the crackdown.

The Interior Ministry said more than 700 people were detained on Sunday across the country, while the Viasna human rights centre put the figure at 1,291.

The continued clampdown elicited international outrage.

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The European Union has imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and several dozen officials over their role in it earlier this year and again condemned it following Bandarenka’s death.

sweden-belarus Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, right, sits with Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, during a bilateral visit, in Stockholm, Sweden, today. Source: Claudio Bresciani/TT/PA

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, accused Belarusian authorities of “brutal police violence”.

“This must end,” he said.

“The German government won’t forget how people there are mistreated almost daily on the streets, and we will also not forget those who are kidnapped daily and exposed to even worse abuse behind prison walls.”

Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania after fleeing Belarus for her safety, called on the West to “act faster”. “Belarusians need help right now,” she tweeted.

“Expand the sanction list (and) impose economic restrictions. Help those repressed (and) injured. Support media (and) human rights defenders. Stop investing in banks (and) state-owned companies. Start international investigation and tribunal,” she wrote.

On a visit to Stockholm for talks with Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, Tikhanovskaya pleaded for an international investigation in the death of Bandarenka.

“If we have no law in our country, if we have no justice in our country, we are appealing for international help and countries where democracy prevails, where law prevails, to try to help us,” she said in an interview with AFP.

“We will see if it is possible, but I am sure that it has to be done,” she added.

With reporting from AFP and PA

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Adam Daly

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