Another Belarus

Belarus could bring down ‘another iron curtain’ across Europe – The Guardian

Belarus and its allies have repeatedly tried to muzzle speakers at the UN amid warnings of a new iron curtain falling across Europe during an ill-tempered debate on alleged human rights violations.

The body’s 47-member human rights council voted by 23 votes to two with 22 abstentions to adopt a resolution condemning rights violations in Belarus and requesting the UN high commissioner on Human Rights to take up the issue and report back to the council.

The debate was repeatedly interrupted by the Belarus representative, backed by delegates from Russia, China and Venezuela, who tried to limit presentations – including from Alexander Lukashenko’s main election challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, on procedural grounds.

Tikhanovskaya’s short video message had barely begun when the Belarusian representative, Yuri Ambrazevich, demanded it be switched off. He repeatedly interrupted the screening, raising procedural objections and insisting her words had “no relevance on the substance … on the events that are taking place today”.

He was overruled by the council president, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger.

Anaïs Marin, the UN’s special rapporteur on Belarus, described the human rights situation in Belarus as “catastrophic” and warned: “Let’s not allow another iron curtain to descend on the European continent.”

More than 10,000 people had been “abusively arrested”, she said, with more than 500 reports of torture and thousands being “savagely beaten”. She called on authorities to release those held on “politically motivated charges”, and for the charges against them to be dropped.

Germany called the urgent all-day talks on behalf of the EU, which has tabled a draft resolution to demand the high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, monitor the crisis and report back by the end of the year, after what the bloc has called “fraudulent elections” officially won by Lukashenko.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko denies rigging the 9 August vote, which, according to official government results, he won by a landslide. He has since cracked down hard on protesters demanding his resignation.

Tikhanovskaya, who officially finished second in the election and has since fled her homeland for Lithuania, demanded an end to violence and a free and fair presidential election. She urged the international community to respond vigorously to abuses in her country.

The situation in Belarus “demands immediate international attention”, she said in the video message, adding that the country’s violation of its international obligations to respect “human dignity and basic human rights … means the international community has a right to react in strongest terms”.

Women tear balaclavas off security officers amid mass arrests in Belarus – video

Lithuania’s foreign minister, Linas Linkevičius, visited Washington this week to urge stronger action from the US against the Lukashenko regime. After meetings with US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and congressional leaders, Linkevičius told the Guardian: “As we have said to our European Union colleagues, we would like to have some more tangible, visible reaction, not just statements. In exactly the same way, I would expect US leadership, and it has to do with the sanctions … and also support for civil society.”

The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, also visited Pompeo this week and called for US and European solidarity on Belarus. Pompeo said on Wednesday the US was “coordinating” with Europe on sanctions and “on ensuring the spotlight remains on the legitimate aspirations of the Belarusian people”.

The resolution adopted by the council raises concerns about torture, arbitrary deprivations of life, and sexual and gender-based violence, as well as the intimidation, harassment and detention of opponents of Lukashenko’s government before and after the vote.

It called on the Belarus authorities to stop using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, halt arbitrary arrests on political grounds and release all political prisoners, journalists and others detained for protesting.

In a statement read by her deputy, Bachelet said: “We are witnessing thousands of arrests. Hundreds of reports of torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence and the reported torture of children. It is vital for the future of Belarus to break these cycles of increasing repression and violence.”

Tikhanovskaya said she wanted to “emphasise our willingness to talk with the authorities and look for peaceful solution to the crisis. We demand an immediate end to violence against peaceful citizens. We demand immediate release of all political prisoners.”

Ambrazevich demanded Tikhanovskaya’s be cut off and blamed “mass media and social networks” for publicising what he said was a distorted picture. He and his counterparts from Russia, Venezuela and China also voiced multiple objections to statements by the UN deputy high commissioner for human rights, Nada al-Nashif, and by Marin, saying they had no place in the debate.

“We deny the unfounded accusations of sexual violence against protesters,” Ambrazevich said. “There is no official record of this. There is no confirmation also of claims that people disappeared in association with the protests.”

In Belarus, borders remained open on Friday despite Lukashenko announcing they would be closed because of a possible “war” with neighbouring countries, which he accused of supporting the opposition. The country’s border guard service said on its Telegram channel that “checks have been stepped up” and “tactical reinforcements have been deployed”, but that “checkpoints are permitting people to enter and leave”.

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U.S. Diplomat Asks Belarus To Release Her Jailed Husband, Vitali Shkliarov – NPR

The detention of Vitali Shkliarov, seen in a Moscow cafe in 2017, is part of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s efforts to portray the uprising against his regime as a Western-backed plot, Shkliarov’s lawyer tells NPR.

Andrew Roth/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Andrew Roth/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The detention of Vitali Shkliarov, seen in a Moscow cafe in 2017, is part of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s efforts to portray the uprising against his regime as a Western-backed plot, Shkliarov’s lawyer tells NPR.

Andrew Roth/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. diplomat warns that her Belarusian American husband’s health is in “immediate danger” following his late-July arrest by security forces of the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

U.S. diplomat Heather Shkliarov, shown here with husband Vitali Shkliarov, has warned that his health is in “immediate danger” since his jailing by Belarusian authorities.

Heather Shkliarov

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Heather Shkliarov

U.S. diplomat Heather Shkliarov, shown here with husband Vitali Shkliarov, has warned that his health is in “immediate danger” since his jailing by Belarusian authorities.

Heather Shkliarov

Vitali Shkliarov, a political analyst and dual citizen who worked on the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, was detained while visiting his parents in his hometown of Gomel, Belarus, in the runup to the country’s Aug. 9 presidential elections, his wife, Heather Shkliarov, said in a statement released Tuesday.

“Vitali traveled to Belarus on July 9, along with our 8-year-old son, simply to visit his mother, who is suffering from advanced cancer, and to celebrate his birthday on July 11 with his family and friends,” the statement says.

She stayed behind in Virginia to prepare the family’s move to Ukraine as part of her new assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, where she serves as a consular official.

Her husband’s troubles began as he walked to a local market, after a two-week mandatory home quarantine due to the coronavirus.

Security agents threw him into a van and drove him to Minsk — some 370 miles away. Shkliarov managed to send out one quick message on his popular Telegram social media channel: “Arrested.”

He was later charged with organizing an illegal campaign rally for opposition blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky — the jailed husband of Lukashenko’s primary election opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Shkliarov previously denied having worked for the campaign. Heather Shkliarov notes her husband was at home in Arlington, Va., on the day the alleged illegal rally took place.

Grim conditions

Shkliarov says her husband has been under “extreme psychological pressure and deprived of basic physical liberties” in prison, with guards constantly moving him among overcrowded cells. Lights are kept on round the clock and loud music “blares all night” to disrupt sleep.

“He has been subjected to extreme strip searches, forced to stand naked in a cell for hours at a time, and never allowed even to sit down on his bed during the day,” she writes.

She also expresses growing concerns over his potential exposure to COVID-19.

“On September 8, Vitali started feeling extremely ill,” she writes, “and for several days in a row, has reported a fever of over 102 degrees, along with respiratory issues, chills, and muscle pains.”

Her husband’s lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, tells NPR that Shkliarov received an initial test for COVID-19 on Wednesday, though it is unclear when results will be available. Shkliarov claims to have lost his sense of smell and taste, Gashinsky says, but remains in a general cell with other prisoners.

“Vitali is suffering this fate not because he was a protestor or involved in any way in the presidential election in Belarus,” Heather Shkliarov’s statement says.

Her husband’s only offense, she says, was that he had written articles criticizing Lukashenko.

“To this day, he has bravely refused to admit to crimes that he did not commit, and so he remains in jail.”

View to a revolution

Shkliarov’s detention has unfolded against the backdrop of a wave of mass protests calling on Lukashenko to resign after the Belarusian strongman claimed an improbable landslide win in the August elections.

Amid Democratic Street Uprising, Belarusian Strongman Gets Support From Russia

Gashinsky says his client’s American citizenship has made him “a hostage” in Lukashenko’s larger efforts to portray the uprising as a Western-backed plot — an argument Lukashenko made to Russian President Vladimir Putin this week as he sought reassurance of critical Kremlin backing for his regime.

“Vitaly ideally fits Lukashenko’s theory of outside influence on the protests,” says Gashinksy. “Here’s an American political spin doctor born in Belarus who they can tie directly to the protest movement.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top State Department officials have called for the release of Shkliarov and others “unjustly detained” by Lukashenko.

A State Department official who did not want to be named tells NPR that consular officials have been granted four visits to Shkliarov since his arrest — the last one on Sept. 11.

Heather Shkliarov’s statement notes that “views expressed in this statement are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. government.”

A commitment to grassroots politics

A political commentator on events in America and the former Soviet Union, Shkliarov’s writings have appeared in Foreign Policy magazine and Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta, among other publications. He was recently a fellow at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russia and Eurasian Studies.

But Shkliarov also made his name working on presidential campaigns in Russia, Georgia and the United States —  where he worked as a volunteer for President Obama in 2012 and as a field staff organizer for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016.

He later served as a campaign adviser to liberal candidates in Georgia and Russia — including socialite Ksenia Sobchak’s failed bid against Putin in 2018.

He has said his interest in grassroots politics was sparked by watching Obama deliver a landmark speech in summer 2008 in Berlin.

“So, just imagine you grow up on some brainwashed, communist crap on TV,” said Shkliarov, “and then it’s like, what’s happening? Why does my country not have politicians or ideas like this?”

NPR’s Michele Kelemen contributed to this story.

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Belarus rally'

Belarus: 100,000 join rally against Lukashenko on eve of Putin showdown – The Guardian

Attempts by Belaruss president, Alexander Lukashenko, to crush popular protests against him failed on Sunday when more than 100,000 people marched on his residence in the capital, Minsk, with other d…
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Belarus Opposition

Belarus opposition politician told she would be deported ‘alive or in bits’ – BBC News


image copyrightReuters

image captionKolesnikova is currently jailed in the capital

A detained Belarusian opposition leader has said she feared for her life when security officers threw a bag over her head during an attempt to deport her.

Through her lawyer, Maria Kolesnikova said she was forced into a van and told that if she did not leave willingly she would be removed “alive or in bits”.

She is now seeking a criminal case against Belarusian security forces including the KGB, her lawyer said.

Mass unrest has gripped Belarus since last month’s disputed polls.

Ms Kolesnikova is one of three women who joined forces to challenge President Alexander Lukashenko in August’s election. She is the last of the three women to remain inside Belarus after she resisted attempts to forcibly deport her into Ukraine earlier this week.

The main opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, says she won 60-70% of the election in places where votes were properly counted. She fled to Lithuania after she was detained in August.

What has Kolesnikova said?

In a statement filed by her lawyer, she said she had been forced into the van by masked men on Monday in the capital, Minsk.

“It was stated that if I did not voluntarily leave the Republic of Belarus, I would be taken out anyway, alive or in bits. There were also threats to imprison me for up to 25 years.”

Ms Kolesnikova was driven to the Ukrainian border with two other people, but she prevented officials forcibly expelling her by tearing up her passport and throwing it out of a car window, those who travelled with her said.

media captionIvan Kravtsov says Ms Kolesnikova tore her passport into pieces and then climbed through the rear car window

Her lawyer said her client was in “good spirits”.

What about other opposition figures?

The other two women who joined forces with Ms Kolesnikova to challenge Mr Lukashenko, Veronika Tsepkalo and presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, left the country soon after the election.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has offered Ms Tikhanovskaya a house in the country’s capital, Warsaw.

media captionLithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda: Democratic values do not have a price

European diplomats were photographed at the home of Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich in Minsk this week after she said masked men tried to break in.

She is the last leading member of the opposition Co-ordination Council still in Belarus who has not been detained.

On Wednesday, witnesses reportedly saw Maxim Znak, a lawyer and another member of the Co-ordination Council, being led down a street in the capital by masked men in plain clothes.

Belarusian authorities said both he and Ms Kolesnikova were being held on suspicion of harming national security and destabilising the country.

What’s the latest from Lukashenko?

During the inauguration of a new chief prosecutor on Thursday, the president maintained his legitimacy as leader.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionWomen were detained during a march in support of Maria Kolesnikova and other opposition leaders

“People often reproach me: ‘He won’t give up power.’ They’re right to reproach me. The people didn’t elect me for this,” he said.

“Power is not given to be taken, thrown and given away.”

The president, in power since 1994, said that Belarus could not return to the instability of the years following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

media captionWhat lies behind the Belarus protests?

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Belarus: Russian Prime Minister meets with Lukashenko in Minsk- BBC News – BBC News

Belarus: Russian Prime Minister meets with Lukashenko in Minsk- BBC News – YouTube

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Belarus Journalists

Belarus: Journalists covering protests stripped of accreditation – BBC News

Belarus opposition activists light up their mobile phones during a peaceful protest rally against the results of the presidential elections, in Minsk, Belarus, 25 August 2src2src.

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Protesters have called for Mr Lukashenko to resign

Authorities in Belarus have withdrawn the accreditation of a number of journalists who have been reporting on post-election protests there for foreign media outlets.

Two journalists with the BBC’s Russian service are among those affected.

It comes on the eve of large-scale protests expected on Sunday.

In a statement, the BBC said it condemned “in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism”.

It has called for the Belarusian government to reverse its decision.

“We believe it is vital for the people of Belarus to have access to impartial, independent information about events in their country. BBC Russian, which reaches more than five million people a week, has been a major source of news for people in Belarus and Russia during the post-election unrest,” it said.

Government spokesman Anatoly Glaz told AFP news agency the action was taken following a recommendation from the country’s counter-terrorism unit.

Austria’s foreign ministry described the action against journalists as a blatant attempt to suppress objective reporting.

At least 10 local and several Russian journalists lost their accreditation on Saturday, with Radio Liberty, AFP, Reuters, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Deutsche Welle among the other outlets affected.

The announcement came days after multiple journalists – including a BBC team – were detained in Minsk ahead of a protest.

The interior ministry said they had been taken to a police station for identity checks. However, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, who was among those detained, said it was a “clear attempt to interfere with coverage of events”.

What’s the background?

Unrest in Belarus was triggered earlier this month by an election widely believed to have been rigged in favour of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.

The leading opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled to Lithuania following the vote and has since called for protests.

The country has seen unprecedented opposition demonstrations and workers have staged walkouts at major state enterprises. Thousands have been arrested and there have been numerous reports of police brutality.

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Media captionWhat lies behind the Belarus protests?

At least four people have died and hundreds have been injured.

The European Union and the US are among those to reject the election as neither free nor fair. The EU is preparing sanctions against officials it accuses of rigging the result to deliver Mr Lukashenko’s victory and of cracking down on the opposition movement.

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Belarus’ Lukashenko carries assault rifle as protesters demand his resignation at mass rally – CNBC

Thousands of people gather for a protest on Independence Square. The demonstrators are taking to the streets in the Belarusian capital and other cities and continue to press for the resignation of President Lukashenko.

Ulf Mauder | picture alliance via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Belarus’ capital city of Minsk over the weekend, demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko following his contested re-election earlier this month.

Demonstrators marched toward Lukashenko’s residence at the Independence Square on Sunday, brandishing red and white flags to symbolize their opposition to the president and chanting for the long-time ruler to step down and for new elections to be held.

One Reuters witness estimated that as many as 200,000 people could be seen rallying in central Minsk for the second consecutive week. State television suggested the demonstration consisted of 20,000 people.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, claimed a landslide victory in the August 9 presidential election after official results gave him his sixth term in office with 80% of the vote.

Opposition protesters have since taken to the streets to voice their anger over allegations of vote-rigging and reports of police violence.

Lukashenko has denied allegations of electoral fraud and maintained that he won the election fairly. The 65-year-old has also ruled out holding another vote and vowed to crush the unrest.

The president was shown in state media footage flying over the protests in a helicopter on Sunday, before landing at his residence and emerging wearing body armor and carrying an assault rifle in his hand.

Shortly thereafter, a separate video circulated by state media showed the president thanking riot police outside his residence, prompting an outburst of applause from security officials.

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko holds a meeting with members of the Security Council of Belarus.

Andrei Stasevich | TASS | Getty Images

Thousands of protesters have been detained and at least four people have been killed since the election.

Human Rights Watch has described the ongoing crackdown as “systemically brutal,” while Amnesty International has accused Belarusian authorities of demonstrating a “complete disregard” for human rights.

“I believe this is the end of Lukashenko,” Mark McNamee, director for Europe at research and advisory firm DuckerFrontier, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Monday.

“It will take time to play out but he has lost all legitimacy domestically, as well as internationally with the EU, as well as with Russia,” McNamee said.

Russia intervention would be ‘dangerous’

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who challenged the 65-year-old president after her husband was barred from running in the election and jailed by authorities, has condemned the result and called for the creation of a legal mechanism that can ensure a new, fair presidential election can be held.

The 37-year-old has since fled to Lithuania amid fears for her family’s safety. She received around 10% of the vote on August 9, according to official results.

The European Union announced last week that it planned to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials following the country’s contested presidential election.

European Council President Charles Michel said in a video briefing that the bloc would soon impose sanctions on a “substantial number” of individuals responsible for violence, repression, and election fraud.

The bloc had previously described the vote as “neither free nor fair.”

Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (front) talks to reporters outside the office of the Belarusian Central Election Commission. Belarus is to hold a presidential election on 9 August 2020.

Natalia Fedosenko | TASS | Getty Images

On Saturday, Belarus’ Lukashenko claimed the NATO military alliance had been building up military troops in Poland and Lithuania, two countries that border Belarus to the west.

NATO has denied the allegations.

Andrew Wood, a former U.K. ambassador to Russia, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Friday said the prospect of Russian President Vladimir Putin seeking to directly intervene in Belarus’ post-election crisis could not be ruled out.

“It is possible, but it would be dangerous,” he warned. “After all, what is happening in Belarus is precisely what Putin and his colleagues fear might happen in Russia. That is that the population itself would become their enemy.”

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Belarus protests

Protests held in Belarus amid claims president rigged election – CBS Evening News

Protests held in Belarus amid claims president rigged election – YouTube

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Belarus protests

Belarus protests: Strikes expected as Lukashenko remains defiant – BBC News

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionLarge crowds of anti-government demonstrators rallied in the capital

Fresh strikes are expected in Belarus after a weekend which saw tens of thousands take to the streets to demand the departure of long-term President Alexander Lukashenko.

Opposition leaders called for the strikes as anger grew over reports of police violence as well as alleged poll-rigging in the 9 August vote.

But the president, who claimed a landslide victory, remains defiant.

On Sunday, he called on supporters to defend their country and independence.

However, protesters came out in far larger numbers, with local, independent news site describing the peaceful demonstration as “the largest in the history of independent Belarus”.

The wave of anger has been rising since the Central Election Commission said Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80.1% of the vote and the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.12%.

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Media caption‘Human life is the most precious thing’: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks out from exile

Ms Tikhanovskaya, who left for Lithuania after publicly denouncing the results, insists that where votes were properly counted, she won support ranging from 60% to 70%.

In a video message released on Monday, she says she is ready to become a “national leader” in order to restore calm and normality, freeing political prisoners and preparing for new elections.

Meanwhile, some 6,700 people have been arrested in the wake of the election, and many have spoken of torture at the hands of the security services.

State TV staff appeared to be on strike on Monday morning with a broadcast showing empty news desks, foreign journalists noted.

Workers at state-run factories walked out in solidarity with the protesters last week, and more strikes are planned for this week, increasing the pressure on Mr Lukashenko, says the BBC’s Kiev correspondent, Jonah Fisher.

What happened on Sunday?

Rival rallies were held in the capital, with local media reports suggesting that around 31,000 people took part in the pro-government event. The interior ministry estimated that the number was around 65,000, while a reporter for AFP news agency said the figure was closer to 10,000.

Speaking to supporters, Mr Lukashenko said Belarus would “die as a state” if a re-run of the election were to take place.

“You came here so that for the first time in a quarter-century you could defend your country, your independence, your wives, sisters and children,” he said.

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Mr Lukashenko described the opposition as rats

He added that the opposition would “crawl like rats out of a hole” if they were not suppressed this time.

There were reports of state sector workers being forced to attend or face the threat of losing their jobs. For days, workers at state-run factories have staged walkouts and many have joined street marches against the president.

As the president spoke, around 220,000 anti-Lukashenko protesters gathered near the Stela Minsk Hero City World War Two memorial in central Minsk, according to

Supporters also turned out in other cities, following a call for weekend rallies from Ms Tikhanovskaya.

A number of officials, as well as current and former police officers, have resigned.

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Protesters were out in force in Minsk on Sunday

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The Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya, declared his solidarity with the protesters but told the BBC the government did not seem ready to hear them.

What’s happening internationally?

President Lukashenko, who has led Belarus for 26 years, has also faced growing pressure from other European countries.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU should “continue to mobilise on the side of the hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who are protesting peacefully for the respect of their rights, liberty and sovereignty”.

More about the protests in Belarus

Germany’s Vice-Chancellor Olaf Sholz described Mr Lukashenko as a “bad dictator”, telling the Bild newspaper that the Belarusian leader had “lost all legitimacy”.

Last week, EU foreign ministers agreed to prepare new sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for “violence, repression and the falsification of election results”. The US condemned the election as “not free and fair”.

Hundreds of people attended protests in Prague and Warsaw on Sunday.

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People in a number of other countries, including the Czech Republic, pictured, also took part in demonstrations

But President Lukashenko has sought Russian help as the unrest continues.

On Saturday, he said President Vladimir Putin had promised to provide what he called comprehensive assistance in the event of external military threats to Belarus.

The two leaders had a second conversation on Sunday, in which the Kremlin said they had discussed “the situation in Belarus, taking into consideration the pressure the republic was being put under from outside”.

Mr Putin told Mr Lukashenko Russia was ready to assist Belarus “in accordance with the collective military pact if necessary”.

The Belarusian leader also voiced concerns over Nato military exercises taking place in neighbouring Poland and Lithuania, and launched into a tirade against the Western military alliance.

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Belarus’ Lukashenko: air assault brigade will move to Belarus’ Western border – Reuters

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting on construction industry in Minsk, Belarus August 14, 2020. Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS

MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on state TV on Saturday that an air assault brigade would move to Belarus’ Western border.

He also added that he agreed on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As the European Union is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Belarus in response to a bloody crackdown in which at least two protesters have been killed, Lukashenko said earlier that he was concerned with the NATO military exercises being conducted in Poland and Lithuania, which he sees as an arms build-up.

Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Alison Williams

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