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Lukashenko’s survival game: What happens next in Belarus? | Belarus News

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When Belarusians came out on August 9 to protest what they saw as a mass falsification of the presidential elections, Marat Mikhal knew that a violent police crackdown was imminent. It had happened before.

In December 2010, after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed 80 percent of the votes in the presidential election amid allegations of vote-rigging, protests erupted in the capital Minsk but were swiftly suppressed by police forces.

The events of that year affected Mikhal, who was then just 16 years old, and politicised him.

Ten years later, as a young adult, he came out in the streets of Minsk to protest Lukashenko’s fifth re-election, despite the heavy police presence. He was arrested, severely beaten and held in detention for several days.

The violence, however, did not deter Mikhal and many others from continuing to protest against Lukashenko.

“My relatives urged me [not to join the protests again]. But if not me, then who would? So I went out to protest despite [the warnings],” Mikhal told Al Jazeera.

On August 16, he joined more than 200,000 people who gathered in central Minsk for what some say has been the largest opposition demonstration in the recent history of Belarus.

Meanwhile, workers at various state factories and institutions announced strikes in solidarity with protesters, while videos of members of the security forces announcing their resignations circulated on social media.

Lukashenko’s defiance

Despite the growing opposition against his rule, Lukashenko has remained defiant.

He has rejected calls to hold new elections and has instead proposed to amend the constitution in order to redistribute executive power.

He has also reached out to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to request help, which has stirred fears of possible Russian military intervention, similar to the one in Ukraine in 2014.

But according to analysts, what happens next in Belarus will be determined not just by decisions made in Moscow, but also by the resilience of protesters like Mikhal and their ability to maintain mass mobilisation on the ground.

Although Lukashenko is seeking help from the Kremlin, he is not on the best of terms with the Russian leadership. 

In recent years, the Belarusian president has shifted between anti-Russian and anti-Western rhetoric, trying to exploit Russian-EU tensions to secure oil and gas price discounts from Moscow.

In pursuing this strategy, Lukashenko is said to have incurred Putin’s resentment.

A rejected union

Earlier this year, Moscow announced that Belarus would start paying for Russian oil and gas at global prices after the Belarusian president resisted Russian pressure to go forward with a union between the two countries. 

In 1999, Lukashenko had signed an agreement with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin for the creation of a political and economic union, where the two countries would have common political institutions, economic policies, and currency.

The agreement was never fully implemented, but close ties to Moscow ensured the flow of cheap Russian oil and gas, which propped up the country’s economy and precluded the need for privatisation of state-owned enterprises and political opening. 

In the 2010s, as the Russian economy was hit by the slump in oil prices and Western sanctions, the Kremlin found it difficult to sustain subsidies for Belarus and sought to change this arrangement.

Opposition supporters take part in a protest rally in front of the parliament building in Minsk [Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA]

In response, Lukashenko pursued closer relations with the West, which led to the European Union lifting most sanctions on Belarus.

From Moscow’s perspective, a union with Belarus would have justified the continuation of subsidies, but Lukashenko saw this as a direct threat to his power.

Before the August 9 vote, the Belarusian president repeatedly accused Russia of supporting the opposition.

On July 29, the Belarusian authorities arrested dozens of Russian citizens, claiming they were mercenaries from Russia’s best-known private military contractor, Wagner, who were preparing a plot to destabilise the country.

As it became clear that the crackdown was not effective in suppressing the protests, Lukashenko switched to anti-Western rhetoric.

He has since accused the opposition of planning to join NATO and the European Union, ban the Russian language, and establish an Orthodox church independent of the Moscow Patriarchate – policies that Ukrainian nationalists have pursued since 2014, angering Russia.

Since the elections, he has also had at least two phone calls with Putin to discuss Russian assistance in case of a “foreign threat”.

On August 18, he spoke for a third time with the Russian president, who informed him of his conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron regarding the situation in Belarus.

The same day, Russian media reported that an aeroplane belonging to the Russian security service FSB and previously used by FSB director Alexander Bortnikov had landed in Minsk, but no details were provided on any formal meeting between Lukashenko and Russian officials.

A Ukraine scenario

While Lukashenko’s about-face has provoked fears of a Ukrainian scenario in Belarus, a Russian military intervention does not seem to be forthcoming.

According to Anton Barbashin, a research fellow at the Atlantic Council, apart from the Kremlin’s dislike for the Belarusian president, what also makes such a scenario unlikely is the fact that any military action would be very costly for the Russian leadership.

Belarus president claims he is willing to share power (5:18)

It would mean further deterioration in relations with the West and more heavy sanctions.

Although Lukashenko is trying to stir fears of anti-Russian sentiment and actions by the opposition, the Belarusian protests have not adopted any nationalistic narratives that would alienate the Russian-speaking communities in the country and encourage local support for Russian military action, Barbashin said.

And while Belarus falls within the Russian sphere of influence and regional security calculus, it has no major Russian military base, unlike the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

In Barbashin’s opinion, an “Armenian scenario” is more likely than a Ukrainian one.

In 2018, a nationwide protest movement toppled Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan after he sought to remain in power despite previous pledges to step down.

Although Sargsyan had warm ties with Moscow, the Russian government did not oppose the protests, which had not expressed any anti-Russian sentiment.

Lukashenko

Lukashenko addresses his supporters gathered at Independent Square of Minsk [Dmitri Lovetsky/AP]

Belarusian protesters and opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya have repeatedly emphasised that they do not want a “Maidan” in Belarus, referring to the protest movement in Ukraine in 2013-2014.

At an August 18 news conference of the coordination committee for the transfer of power, formed by Tikhanovskaya’s campaign, its members expressed commitment to maintaining close relations with Russia.

Similar sentiments have been voiced by protesters who, unlike their Ukrainian counterparts, have not raised the EU flag during rallies or called for Euro-Atlantic integration.

Mikhal told Al Jazeera that he does not want Belarus to become a battlefield for the Russia-EU standoff and hopes that his country will be able to maintain neutrality and good relations with both.

Fear of prosecution

Although military intervention from Russia remains unlikely, Lukashenko’s resignation is also far from certain.

According to Aleksey Bratochkin, a historian and lecturer at the European College of Liberal Arts in Belarus, what is making his exit more difficult is his fear of prosecution.

During his 26-year rule, many crimes have been committed that could lead to criminal investigations, including the forced disappearances of a number of politicians, businessmen and journalists who had been critical of his presidency.

“There are many claims against Lukashenko from various political groups. He is not a president who would retire peacefully,” Bratochkin said.

Although pressure from the streets has increased since the August 9 vote, the foundations of Lukashenko’s rule still seem intact.

While there have been some resignations among low-ranking officials and members of the security forces, no significant defections from the political elite have taken place, Bratochkin said.

Lukashenko has also rejected negotiations with Tikhanovskaya, calling the formation of the coordination committee “an attempt to seize power” and threatening its members with legal action.

The elites

There is also continuing heavy security presence in Minsk and elsewhere in the country, which is raising fears that the president could resort to violence again at any time.

According to Katia Glod, a London-based scholar and consultant on former Soviet countries, Lukashenko’s current strategy is to protract the political process and wait for the protests to dissipate.

To counter his intransigence, the opposition would have to find a political insider who has more authority and standing to lead negotiations with him and his elite, she said.

“[The elites] know that Lukashenko has some compromising materials against them. They understand that if they defect, they would lose their economic [benefits],” Glod said.

“They would not do it, unless there is someone very credible and strong who can persuade them and give them certain guarantees,” she said.

In her view, pressure from the EU in the form of sanctions and refusal to recognise Lukashenko’s government could also encourage negotiations, but ultimately the outcome of the current standoff will be determined by the opposition movement’s ability to find allies within the political elite and sustain mass mobilisation.

According to Mikhal, there is such a society-wide consensus against Lukashenko’s rule that the protest momentum is unlikely to slow down.

“In 2010, the society swallowed [the falsification of the vote], but today it is no longer the same society. It has matured politically”, he said. “The current situation will only end if there is handover of power.”

Follow Mariya Petkova on Twitter: @mkpetkova





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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FDC activists win Bank of Uganda pig case by simply keeping quiet

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FDC activists Augustine Ojobile and Robert Mayanja

Buganda Road Magistrate’s court has acquitted two opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) activists Augustine Ojobile and Robert Mayanja of common nuisance charges.

FDC deputy chief administrative officer Ojobile and Mayanja have been acquitted by the grade one magistrate Fidelis Otwao on charges stemming from their protest held in November 2018 when they carried pig heads to the central police station (CPS) in Kampala protesting the rot in the Bank of Uganda that had reportedly resulted into the closure of a number of commercial banks in the country for many years.


According to them, corruption at the Central bank had been the sole ingredient for the closure of commercial banks in Uganda over the years because it reportedly mismanaged them and made erroneous decisions that led to their closure.

With fresh pig heads tied around their necks and stinking blood oozing across their white T-shirts, Mayanja and Ojobile walked through the streets of Kampala to the police in a protest that was spearheaded by their pressure group known as the Jobless Youth.

One pig head had a placard bearing the name of the former and late BOU governor Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile and the other of his former deputy Louis Kasekende.

The protest at CPS came a few days after another that was staged at the Central bank where two piglets were dumped bearing the name of Juma Kisaame (a Muslim), the former managing director of DFCU bank. 

As a result, the duo was arrested and taken to Buganda Road court on charges of common nuisance and the prosecution adduced evidence from five witnesses who included police officers and Muslims who were reportedly angered by the protest.

According to the witnesses, the actions of Mayanja and Ojobile were annoying to the people whose names were mentioned and tagged on pig heads, and the smell that was coming out of the fresh pig heads was most likely to result in injury to a considerable number of the public by affecting their health, and the protest affected businesses since some shops allegedly had to close to see what was happening outside due to their commotion.

But when Mayanja and Ojobile were asked to defend themselves over the allegations, the duo that didn’t have legal representation chose to keep quiet as their defense and let the court make its decision based on what the prosecution witnesses had testified to.

In a judgement read today Friday by Otwao, he indicated that the evidence from the prosecution witnesses is wanting because none of the people alleged to have been annoyed by the actions of the activists testified in the case or recorded a statement with police.

According to Otwao, the testimonies were based on what the witnesses were feeling as individuals and that there were no abusive statements on the pig heads that the prosecution had indicated which would cause annoyance, save for putting the names of people only. 

As such, the court has ruled that such testimonies cannot be relied on to convict a person because the prosecution has failed to prove that there was common injury, danger to the public or destruction of property.

Consequently, the magistrate has acquitted the duo and directed that each of them starts the process to seek a refund of the Shs 500,000 that each had paid to be released on bail.

The activists have welcomed the ruling saying that the court has recognized that the citizens have a right to protest peacefully.

The pig protests have been commonly used by activists who subscribe to this group known as the Jobless Brotherhood which has since rebranded to the “Alternative”.

In 2016, their members including Luta Ferdinand who is now facing trial in the court-martial on different charges, and Joseph Lukwago were arrested for dumping piglets at parliament protesting the Shs 200 million given to each MP for buying personal cars.



Source – observer.ug

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Saudi Arabia executes 81 people in a single day | Death Penalty News

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The death penalty applied for a range of charges in the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom’s modern history.

Saudi Arabia has executed 81 men over the past 24 hours, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian national, on charges including “allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations” and holding “deviant beliefs”, state news agency Saudi Press Agency said, in the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom in its modern history.

The number dwarfed the 67 executions reported in the kingdom in 2021 and the 27 in 2020.

“These individuals … were convicted of various crimes including murdering innocent men, women and children,” SPA said on Saturday, citing a statement from the interior ministry.

“Crimes committed by these individuals also include pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations, such as ISIS [ISIL], al-Qaeda and the Houthis,” it added.

Some travelled to conflict zones to join “terrorist organisations”, according to the SPA.

“The accused were provided with the right to an attorney and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process,” it said.

“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten the stability of the entire world,” the report added.

The men included 37 Saudi nationals who were found guilty in a single case for attempting to assassinate security officers and targeting police stations and convoys, the report added.

Saudi Arabia’s last mass execution was in January 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 people, including a prominent opposition Shia leader who had rallied demonstrations in the kingdom.

In 2019, the kingdom beheaded 37 Saudi citizens, most of them minority Shia, in a mass execution across the country for alleged “terrorism”-related crimes.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights records have been under increasing scrutiny from rights groups and Western allies since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

It has faced strong criticism of its restrictive laws on political and religious expression, and the implementation of the death penalty, including for defendants arrested when they were minors.

Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security according to its laws.

SPA said the accused were provided with the right to a lawyer and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Nigerian student in Ukraine: 'Mummy we keep hearing bombs'

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Hauwa’s son Suleiman is a Nigerian student in Sumy – she says the family are fearful and anxious.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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