Belarus in protests crackdown mode

Belarus was hit by a new wave of protests in the last weeks after President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed he will run for a sixth term in office. His opponents try to inflict a sort of unrest similar to the one in neighbouring Ukraine a decade ago, but Belarusian strongman vowed never to allow a "colour revolution" and was fast to put his main political opponents in jail.

On Monday Lukashenko said that authorities will outlaw protests until the upcoming election in the summer and he will never allow a revolution to occur. Local media reported that prominent opposition figures were arrested following anti-government demonstrations in Minsk at the weekend. "We will never allow destabilization of the situation in our country," Lukashenko said. "We don't want any 'colour revolutions' here," he added.

The strongman has led the former Soviet state for 25 years and has been described as Europe's "last dictator" owing to his tight hold on power and allegations of widespread corruption at the highest levels of government. Lukashenko is seeking re-election to a sixth term as president on 9 August. Presidential term limits were abolished in a 2004 referendum. Opponents say he should be banned from running; Lukashenko described opposition groups as "bands of criminals."

Demonstrations have been ongoing for several weeks since Lukashenko confirmed he will be running for another term. Independent media reported Sunday that prominent opposition leader Mikola Statkevich was arrested at a demonstration and fastly sentenced to 15 days in police detention, as dozens more activists were held across the country, charged on a variety of counts.

Statkevich was found guilty of organising an unauthorised rally, AFP reported. He was jailed for six years in 2010 after opposing Lukashenko in presidential elections.Rights groups have also denounced the arrest of popular political video blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky on Friday. He was accused of violence against a police officer, which supporters say was police persecution.

Belarus has hit headlines globally during the coronavirus pandemic as one of the few countries not to introduce any kind of restrictions on public life. Lukashenko dismissed coronavirus as a "psychosis" and has said that fresh air and hard work are the best cures. The country has reported over 43,000 confirmed cases with 230 people dead, though health experts say they believe that cases may have been under-reported.

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