Belarus warns of lethal protest response

Vladimir Isachenkov
·2-min read

Belarus' interior minister has warned authorities won't hesitate to approve the use of live ammunition on protesters if it's necessary to quash ongoing anti-government demonstrations.

In a YouTube interview released on Wednesday, Yuri Karayev said he thinks police have been too tolerant of protesters and that the government will take a tougher line.

He noted many officers have been injured during two-and-a-half months of post-election unrest.

"A war is going on. There has been an open and blatant pressure fuelled by impunity and lack of fear," Karayev said.

He added that police would continue to rely mostly on non-lethal weapons but would use firearms if they faced a violent response.

"A police officer was nearly killed, he was being strangled but he only fired warning shots in the air," the minister said, adding that he was working to change that attitude and was telling police their lives depend "on how quickly you pull your gun".

In another statement intended to turn the heat on protesters, Belarus' Prosecutor General, Andrei Shved, said his office has opened 657 criminal inquiries into violence against police.

He added that some of them involve charges of terrorism.

Since the country's August 9 presidential election, Belarus has been rocked by the largest and most sustained protests in President Alexander Lukashenko's 26-year rule.

Official election results gave him a landslide victory to a sixth term. The demonstrators have rejected the official results as a sham and demanded Lukashenko's resignation.

Police detained thousands and brutally beat hundreds of peaceful protesters during the first few days of protests, triggering international outrage and prompting the US and the European Union to introduce sanctions against Belarusian officials accused of vote fraud and the clampdown on demonstrations.

Lukashenko's main election challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left for Lithuania under pressure from authorities after the vote, had urged a nationwide strike if Lukashenko did not resign.

She gave the go-ahead for the strike to begin Monday after police in Minsk and other cities once again dispersed demonstrators with stun grenades and tear gas.

Sunday's rally in Minsk was one of the largest in weeks, drawing nearly 200,000 people, according to a human rights centre's estimate.