Police use live fire on Belarus protesters

Police use live fire on Belarus protesters

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Police used live bullets when they came under attack during protests in Belarus, the interior ministry says.

As details of the incident in the south-western city of Brest emerged, the United Nations condemned the use of violence by authorities.

A demonstrator was wounded in Tuesday’s incident in Brest, but officials say police reacted in self-defence.

Protesters have accused police of brutality in the wake of Sunday’s presidential election.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said reports suggested “a trend of massive arrests in clear violation of international human rights standards”.

A BBC crew was also attacked by police on Tuesday evening.

The protests erupted hours after Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the presidential vote, which has been condemned by the EU as “neither free nor fair”. The main opposition contender, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was then detained before fleeing to neighbouring Lithuania.

EU ‘considers sanctions’

Mr Lukashenko won 80% of Sunday’s vote, according to election officials, but there were widespread allegations of vote rigging. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Belarusians had shown “the desire for democratic change” in the election campaign.

Sweden’s foreign minister says EU foreign ministers will meet on Friday to discuss imposing sanctions on Belarus.

Lithuanian President Gintanas Nauseda said on Wednesday that Lithuania, Poland and Latvia were prepared to mediate, provided Belarusian authorities stopped violence against protesters, release detained demonstrators and form a national council with members of civil society. The alternative, he warned, was sanctions.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed the vote “was not free and fair”, adding that the people of Belarus “should be given the freedoms that they are demanding”.

When Ms Tikhanovskaya went to the electoral committee on Monday evening to complain about the results that gave her just 10% of the vote, she was detained for seven hours. By Tuesday morning she had arrived in Lithuania.

Mr Borrell accused authorities of using “disproportionate and unacceptable violence causing at least one death and many injuries”.

Websites, which have been jammed in Belarus for days, were widely reported to be back online on Wednesday morning. State TV has said little about the protests and two presenters have announced their resignations.

There have been numerous reports of police violence. One protester has died and 200 others have been wounded, some seriously, and 6,000 detained.

Hundreds of women wearing white clothes and holding flowers turned out in Minsk on Wednesday to call for an end to police violence. A crowd of more than 100 people gathered earlier outside a prison in Minsk waiting for news of their detained relatives and friends.

On Tuesday night alone, interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said more than 1,000 people were held and a number of police and security forces hurt during unrest in Minsk and other big cities.

In the south-western city Brest, police were targeted by a “group of aggressive citizens with metal rods in their hands”; “firearms were used to protect the lives and health of the employees,” she said.

The brutality of the crackdown has shocked observers. However, official newspaper Belarus Segodnya, said the protest “co-ordinators” had been detained, including one Minsk resident said to have organised the “mass disturbances” from a hotel room.

Opposition website Tut.by said journalists were detained in the cities of Brest and Grodno, as well as in the capital.

Many had their equipment broken or confiscated. Tut.by said its own reporter and cameraman were targeted.

Mr Lukashenko, 65, who has ruled the former Soviet country since 1994, has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from abroad. He also later claimed that most of the protesters were unemployed, Belta reported, and told them “in an amicable way” to get jobs.

There were some reports of workers going on strike but state media said it was fake news.

Three TV presenters have resigned in the wake of the vote. Tanya Borodkina of STV said she was standing down because she “could no longer smile on air”. “Do not be afraid,” she urged Belarusians on Facebook. “Do not deprive our children of their future!”

Yevgeny Perlin and Sergey Kozlovich both of Belarus 1 TV also said they had hosted their last shows. “What happened to my Belarus?” Perlin wrote on Facebook.__BBC

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