The world is a theatre of protests (Part-2)

Many leaders in today’s world want to hold onto to power forever. But people are not taking things lying down

Minsk protest (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@franakviacorka)
Minsk protest (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@franakviacorka)

V Venkateswara Rao

Russians have granted President Vladimir Putin the right to stay in power until 2036 by voting overwhelmingly in a referendum conducted in early July for constitutional changes that reset the clock on the longtime Russian leader's tenure to zero, but critics said the outcome was falsified on an industrial scale. The win in the referendum means Putin, 67, could rule until the age of 83.

China had imposed a two-term limit on its president since the 1990s. As per this rule, Xi Jinping would have been due to step down in 2023. But constitutional changes were passed by the annual sitting of Chinese Parliament, the National People's Congress, in 2018. The vote was widely regarded as a rubber-stamp exercise. Two delegates voted against the change and three abstained, out of 2,964. The removal of term limits enables Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely.

The President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has been in power since July 1994. Belarus is a small European nation with a population of 94.49 Lakh. His re-election in August 2020 is being disputed by the public.

Belarus entered into the fourth week of protests where tens of thousands of protestors are demanding the resignation of Lukashenko, claiming he rigged the elections. There has been no official figures on the crowd size, but some opposition sources claimed it exceeded 100,000. Protesters have rallied in the capital,Minsk, on last Sunday in opposition to Lukashenko, with many directing chants of "happy birthday, you rat". "Rat" was a slur Lukashenko previously used to describe opponents. Lukashenko spent his 66th birthday at his residence in Minsk, where he was pictured carrying an automatic rifle. The protesters converged on Lukashenko's residence in the afternoon which was protected by security forces carrying riot shields - while armoured military vehicles were seen earlier driving towards the city centre. Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk.

The clashes with the riot police resulted in over a hundred arrests, with protesters mocking the President on his 66th birthday. In recent weeks, nearly 50 journalists from around the world were taken into custody by law enforcement authorities. International news agency Associated Press (AP) has said that two of its Moscow-based reporters covering the demonstrations in Belarus have been sent back to Russia. Moreover, at least 19 journalists, including the two AP reporters, were recently informed by Belarusian officials that their press credentials have been revoked. In a video shared on YouTube, Lukashenko’s main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, revealed that she had fled to Lithuania after facing threats from the country’s leadership. “God forbid you face the kind of choice that I faced,” she said. Several countries, including the US and the EU, have rejected the election results in Belarus.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Lukashenko, has said he has formed a reserve police force set to intervene if the situation gets “out of control” in Belarus. But Kremlin itself is facing allegations of poisoning its opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

Navalny, a well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a corruption investigator, fell ill on August 20 while flying to Moscow from Siberia, prompting an emergency landing in Omsk. His personal doctor and aide said Navalny had drunk black tea at an airport café, which she believed was laced with poison. Navalny was flown to Berlin in the early hours of August 22 and is being treated at Charite Hospital.

Thousands of protesters have marched in Russia's Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, where rallies were held against President Vladimir Putin's role in the regional political crisis. Some of the protesters chanted "Long live Belarus!" as they marched through Khabarovsk on August 15, voicing support for demonstrations against the disputed presidential vote in Belarus.

(V Venkateswara Rao is a retired corporate professional and a freelance writer)

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