Sunday, March 19, 2006

Minsk Spring, 2006: Profiles In Courage

"Those people who will overcome fear will come out in the streets. There was and still is fear being infused today by warnings of alleged terrorism, which has never been heard of in Belarus. So let's see how many people will come out. I will be grateful to everyone who comes out and says peacefully that we want to live like humans and not on our knees, in humiliation.

Today, I invited those who stand for change in our country to come to a square in Minsk," Milinkevich said today. "This will be an absolutely peaceful rally with flowers. We do not intend to elect a president in the square. There is no such tradition in Belarus. But we will talk about the way the election was conducted and about chances for freedom in our country. And if there are any provocations, the responsibility will lie with the country's leadership."

Democratic Opposition Candidate Alexander Milinkevich, March 19, 2006 via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty [RFE/RL]

"RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported from the scene [in Minsk, Belarus] that between 20,000 and 30,000 protesters have flooded onto the city's October Square [across from the Presidential Palace Complex], despite the closure of metro and bus service in the area.

Opposition candidates Alyaksandr Milinkevich and Alyaksandr Kazulin had both come to the square to address the crowds." 4:00 PM


"[Central Election] Commission chief Lidia Yermoshina said Lukashenko won 92.2 percent of the vote in hospitals and military units, where about 1.2 percent of the nation's eligible voters cast ballots. She said overall results were unlikely to differ greatly from those numbers. ...

Milinkevich said he would not recognize the results and called for a repeat vote."

Yuras Karmanau "Opposition Rallies As Belarus Polls Close" Associated Press March 19, 2006 via 2:24PM


Democratic Opposition Candidates Kozulin and Milinkevich made a joint statement on Friday, March 17, demanding an urgent meeting of the Parliament to discuss the dismissal of the Central Elections Commission "due to their failure to ensure free and fair presidential elections" and to set a new day for presidential elections, no later than July 16, 2006.

“The country lives in an atmosphere of fear, total control, and suppression of dissidents. In fact, the country has a state of emergency,” the statement runs.

"I think that it is clear to everyone that in fact there is no election," Mr. Milinkevich said on Sunday, March 19. "What is going on today is the seizure of power by unconstitutional means."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE], which has about 400 election observers posted throughout Belarus, will hold a press conference on the election results tomorrow afternoon.


"I dream of Belarus as a sort of East European Switzerland, neutral, a bridge between Russia and Europe with many businesses and banks," a 27 year-old Belarusian political science student told EUobserver. "But I don’t think this will come soon," he said.


MINSK (Reuters) - "Belarus's liberal opposition urged thousands of supporters demanding a new presidential poll to disperse from a square peacefully on Sunday as official returns gave incumbent Alexander Lukashenko a huge lead.

With 17 percent of the vote counted in Sunday's contest, Lukashenko had 89 percent while his main challenger Alexander Milinkevich had scored 3.8 percent, Lidyia Yermoshina, head of the central election commission, told state television."

Reuters Sunday March 19, 2006 via 4:30 PM


March 19 (Bloomberg) -- "Belarus opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich told thousands of his supporters gathered in the center of the capital, Minsk, that today's presidential election must be annulled because polling was rigged.

"We intend to demand that the elections are recognized as invalid, also by international organizations," Milinkevich told demonstrators estimated at between 5,000 and 15,000-strong on October Square. "We don't recognize these elections; they were a farce."

Milinkevich described as a "lie" exit polls by state-licensed organizations EKOOM and the Belarus Committee of Youth Organizations which showed the incumbent, President Alexander Lukashenko, with between 81 percent and 84.2 percent of the vote against 2 percent to 6 percent for Milinkevich....

Analysts have said they do not expect protests in Belarus to follow the pattern of those in neighboring Ukraine.

"My main concern for election night is that things will run too calmly and controlled -- I don't think the Belarusians are ripe to stage an overthrow," said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington D.C. in an interview ahead of the election." ... "Belarus Opposition Calls for Poll to Be Annulled (Update5)" March 19, 2006


... "One man sure to be on the square was Alexander Atroshchankau, a leader of the Zubr youth movement similar to the Kmara movement in Georgia and Pora in Ukraine -- although without their success.

"I'll be there. My brother, sister and father and wife will all be there," he said. "They know what's going on and want to go to the square as normal citizens."

But those less dedicated were likely to stay clear.

"I probably won't demonstrate because I'll be expelled from university if I do," Maria, a trainee teacher, said, despite expressing loathing for Lukashenko.

"Everyone's afraid at the moment. Even if we vote it won't make any difference," an 18-year-old sociology student, too scared to give his name, told [Agence France Presse].

Atroshchankau said: "Everything depends on how many people turn up. Clearly, if there are only a few, they'll viciously disperse us."

"But if there's no change now, there might not be for another 10 years."

Agence France Presse "Belarus gets the message: fear rules" March 18, 2006


[Mr. Cogito now fears that he will be arrested, along with Democratic Opposition Challengers Milinkevich and Kozulin, on Tuesday, March 21, after the media go home ...]

Photo credits: Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters, inter alia. With thanks.


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