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Taoiseach speaks to Belarusian opposition leader to voice support, amid third week of Minsk protests

The Taoiseach expressed Ireland’s solidarity with the people of Belarus in their pursuit of democracy and human rights.

Image: Merrion Street/Twitter

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has relayed Ireland’s support to Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania after a backlash to protests against the country’s current president, nicknamed the last dictator of Europe.

The Taoiseach spoke on the phone with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a mother who ran against incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko after her husband was jailed for criticising the Belarusian leader. 

Martin expressed Ireland’s solidarity with her and with the people of Belarus in their pursuit of democracy and human rights.

In a statement released this afternoon, the Minister for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said: “Events in Belarus since the illegitimate presidential election remain of deep and immediate concern.

“During the large-scale protests [yesterday], the Belarusian people once again voiced in a peaceful and powerful manner their clear and simple wish for free and fair elections.”

The statement comes as Belarusian authorities stepped up arrests of political opponents and strike leaders, after yesterday saw the latest unprecedented demonstration against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.

While the protest movement against Lukashenko’s 26-year reign entered its third week, he responded with fresh rhetoric and martial imagery. 

belarus-belarusian-presidential-election Svetlana Tikhanovskaya near the polling station on 9 August. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania after an election on 9 August that she claims to have won against Lukashenko (official tallies indicate Lukashenko won 80% of the vote, but there have been a myriad of reports of voting fraud, including turnout of over 100% at some polling stations).

His insistence on his own landslide victory and police violence against demonstrators have sparked the huge protests against his rule.

Tikhanovskaya said Lukashenko “does not have the support either of the Belarusian people or the international community”.

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun met Tikhanovskaya in Lithuania, calling her a “very impressive person”.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for Lukashenko “not to resort to violence, to respect the rights of the protesters”.

As the vast crowd of protesters held their unsanctioned march through Minsk, Lukashenko responded with a bizarre display of force.

Footage released by his press service showed him landing at his residence in Minsk with his 15-year-old son Nikolai, both in bullet-proof vests and carrying assault rifles.

He then praised riot police manning a heavily fortified barricade as “beautiful guys”.

Today the presidency and state news agency Belta used the footage in a montage set to stirring music, titled “Belarus will not waver”. It featured scenes of heavily armed riot police and warnings that Lukashenko will impose “order”.

Tikhanovskaya’s campaign ally and Coordination Council member Maria Kolesnikova on Monday called for an official investigation into how Nikolai, a minor, was allowed to carry a combat weapon, and ridiculed Lukashenko.

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“We think it’s very strange when someone who heads a country allows himself to run about in very strange clothing, with a very strange weapon in the centre of Minsk,” she said.

“If he thinks 80% of Belarusians voted for him, why does he fearfully hide behind barbed wire and those chains of ‘beautiful guys?’”

What is Ireland doing?

The statement from Minister of State Thomas Byrne continued:

“To that end, Ireland is working closely with our international partners to ensure that the democratic will of the people and their human rights are fully respected.

As Minister for European Affairs, I will be supporting the quickest implementation of the actions announced by the European Union at the weekend.

“In particular, the re-programming of €53 million in Eastern Partnership funds. This will redirect EU assistance directly to civil society and vulnerable groups, including to those who have suffered most at the hands of this repression.

“Ireland will continue to act in support for the Belarusian people and we will impose sanctions on those responsible for the falsification of election results and the unacceptable use of violence and intimidation.”

- with reporting from AFP

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