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8 Dec, 2020 13:48

Tikhanovskaya tells pro-NATO lobbyists that US must ‘act strongly’ to remove Lukashenko & investigate police brutality in Belarus

Tikhanovskaya tells pro-NATO lobbyists that US must ‘act strongly’ to remove Lukashenko & investigate police brutality in Belarus

Belarusian opposition figurehead Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told a meeting of the Atlantic Council on Monday that foreign governments needed to work together to depose the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko.

In a half-hour session moderated by the pro-NATO lobby group, she warned that “there is a need for support from the international community” and told her American hosts “please, stay with us and we will win.”

Tikhanovskaya, who claims she was the true victor of Belarus’s disputed presidential election in August, also urged the US Congress to pass a new package of sweeping sanctions on officials in her home country. Lawmakers are currently considering the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights and Sovereignty Act, which would give the American president the power to take measures against not only officials in Minsk, but also Russians deemed to have supported the regime in the crackdown since the unrest began. 

“We hope that this draft bill becomes law as soon as possible, as it would inspire the US to act decisively and urgently to support Belarus,” Tikhanovskaya said. She added that, if it does, “it would send a strong signal” both in Belarus and “the rest of the world on non-recognition of Lukashenko’s legitimacy.” She also claimed it would pave the way for countries such as the US to “oversee elections” in the Eastern European nation.

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Belarus has been paralyzed in the months since Lukashenko announced he had won August’s poll with more than 80 per cent of the vote. The opposition, and many international organizations, allege that the election was rigged in his favor. Since then, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in cities across the country to call for the veteran leader to step down and call fresh elections. They have been met with a brutal response from authorities.

Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania in the aftermath of the vote, previously revealed that she was working with EU leaders in an attempt to have Belarus’s top riot police, the OMON, listed as terrorists. That would mean they could be prevented from traveling or sending money abroad within the bloc. 

She followed up on that call in her remarks to the Washington-based Atlantic Council, saying that “sanctions must be expanded. The US should launch their procedure of acknowledging the police departments responsible for the crackdown … as terrorist groups. And it is crucial that the US starts an international investigation of police crimes.” She made no mention of America’s own issues with police brutality and the protest movement it inspired across the US.

In November, Lukashenko sought to quell the unrest by announcing he would step down from the presidency, which he has held since the country’s first elections after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, he insisted that he would develop and ratify a new national constitution before his exit, arguing that handing the process over to an untested successor would be a “disaster.” 

Also on rt.com A split in Belarus’ opposition? Kolesnikova hints at talks with embattled Lukashenko but Tikhanovskaya favors West’s intervention

Tikhanovskaya dismissed the move as disingenuous. “I don’t think that Lukashenko will step down voluntarily,” she said. “By talking about the new constitution, Lukashenko attempts to buy himself time to justify his staying in power. All his promises are fake. The rhetoric is used to deceive the West.”

However, it appears that Lukashenko is more concerned about his reputation in Moscow than in Washington or the EU capitals. Later that month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov used a meeting in Minsk to call for a resolution to the situation, and pressed him on the need for constitutional reform. President Vladimir Putin has previously supported Lukashenko’s proposed timeline for his departure

In her speech to the Atlantic Council, Tikhanovskaya wrote off Moscow’s role in resolving the situation. “The only thing we ask of Moscow is to withdraw support from Lukashenko,” she said.

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