09242020What's Hot:

For Belarus Leader, a Fading Aura of Invincibility

Mr. Lukashenko still controls an extensive, so far loyal and shockingly brutal security apparatus. Riot police officers in recent days have displayed extraordinary force against protesters, pummeling demonstrators as they lie on the ground, firing volley after volley of rubber bullets and stun grenades into peaceful unarmed crowds and arresting thousands of people, many of them simply for being outside. In the city of Brest, on Belarus’s border with Poland, security forces fired live bullets, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday, claiming the officers had come under attack.

The brutality of Mr. Lukashenko’s crackdown has alienated even parts of his usually loyal base — a sprawling state sector whose employees depend on the president for their livelihood. A well-known presenter on state television, Yevgeny Perlin, announced on Wednesday that he was quitting, asking on Instagram: “What happened to my Belarus?” Several others also resigned.

“We used to trust him before, but life was getting worse and worse with each day,” said Valery, a mechanic at a state-owned engineering company in Minsk, who declined to give his name for fear of punishment. “What is happening now is complete lawlessness. There was no election, it was a sham. I used to be loyal, I knew that there needed to be law enforcement to fight against criminals, bandits. But these are people, who can go against their own people?”

On Wednesday, the chorus of condemnation was joined by the country’s best-known writer, Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015. Denouncing what she called the “almost inhuman, satanic rage” of riot police officers sent to break up protests, the writer, in an interview with the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty, an American-funded broadcaster, called on Mr. Lukashenko to “leave before it’s too late, before you throw people into a terrible abyss, into the abyss of civil war. Go away!”

Before the election, as criticism of his handling of the pandemic grew and helped trigger protests by tens of thousands of people, the biggest since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Lukashenko warned darkly that Belarusians should remember the notorious 2005 Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan, when security forces loyal to the Uzbek leader, Islam Karimov, shot hundreds of protesters dead.

Source: NYT > World News

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