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Protest violently broken up in Minsk

An opposition protest in Minsk yesterday was broken up by truncheon wielding police.

Showing he will not tolerate demonstrations like those that drove the presidents of Georgia, Ukraine and now Kyrgyzstan from power, [President] Lukashenko sent police into the streets Friday to disperse an estimated 1,000 protesters who chanted �Down with Lukashenko!� and �Long Live Belarus!�

34 protestors were arrested and, according to the Guardian, will be prosecuted.

Police spokesman Oleg Khlebchenko said prosecutors had opened a criminal cases for mass acts breaching the peace and could charge many of those detained – who would face up to a three-year jail sentence. The criminal case also could end up resulting in charges against people considered to be the organizers of the protest as well as those detained.

The Guardian went on to quote opposition leader Andrei Klimov.

“The opening of a criminal case shows that Lukashenko has really taken fright at the events in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Georgia and is trying to crush any manifestation of democracy,” said Klimov, who was still at liberty on Saturday.

“The last dictatorship in Europe is surviving on fear and repression,” he said.

There is a fair chance that Lukashenko can continue to suppress opposition protests through violent means for the next year or so.  People in Belarus are not so much angry at Lukashenko’s government, but resentful and, while angry people tend towards taking action, resentful people tend more towards apathy.  The main reason that today’s protest failed was that the majority of Minsk’s residents are not yet angry enough to put themselves in harms way. 

A quick look at the three most important revolutions of the last year shows that they were all prompted by a single event – stolen elections in both Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and the assassination of an opposition leader in Lebanon.  These events were seen as sufficiently outrageous by the general public that it prompted them to shrug of their apathy and take to the streets.

The next Presidential election in Belarus is scheduled to take place in 2006.  Lukashenko has already served two presidential terms, but last year he rammed through a constitutional amendment that will allow him to serve a third term – assuming, of course, that he gets elected.  The 2006 election that he needs to win is likely to be marred by major fraud, in the same way as Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan’s were, and that is when the people of Belarus will have a single event to pin their anger on.

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