Tuesday, April 13

Belarus opposition leader: We’ve lost on the streets

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GENEVA: Democracy in Belarus will be some time coming, the country’s exiled opposition leader told Swiss daily Le Temps in an interview Saturday, acknowledging that they had lost the battle on the streets for the moment.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s interview with the paper came ahead of a planned trip to Switzerland where she said she wanted to lobby the authorities there to freeze the assets of the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko. But she admitted that the opposition forces had lost the battle on the streets.

“We don’t have the means to combat the violence of the regime against the demonstrators,” she said.

“They have the weapons, they have the force, so yes, for the moment it seems that we have lost,” she told the paper.

“The return to democracy is going to take longer than planned,” she added.

Belarus was gripped by months of unprecedented anti-government demonstrations that erupted after a disputed presidential election last August which saw Lukashenko claim a sixth term in office.

His opponents say the polls were rigged and that political novice Tikhanovskaya, who ran in place of her jailed husband, was the true winner.

But Belarusian security forces unleashed a harsh crackdown against the protests, detaining demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile.

“In Belarus, people want to see light at the end of the tunnel, to think of the day when, at last, everything will be fine. And because they are counting on a swift resolution, they now expect a fantastic plan … But such a plan does not exist,” she told Le Temps.

Instead, Tikhanovskaya called on Belarussians to build structures for the ‘struggles of tomorrow’, despite any sense of fatigue and of fear.

“Our strategy is to better organise ourselves, to put the regime under constant pressure, until the moment when people will once again be ready to go back on to the streets, perhaps in spring,” she said.

But she stressed it needed to be a peaceful revolution, adding that she did not feel she could ask Belarussians to put themselves in danger.

Tikhanovskaya is currently based in Lithuania but, if the restrictions relating to the pandemic permit, she will travel to Switzerland in March.

There, she hopes to meet with UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to discuss ways of ‘restoring justice’ in her country.

In December, Bachelet denounced the deteriorating rights situation in Belarus in a speech to the UN human rights council.

She referred to reports that more than 27,000 people had been arrested since the Aug 9 vote, including senior citizens taking part in peaceful protests.

The council meets again on Thursday to consider the situation there, as Bachelet’s report on the country is published.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994. — AFP