Alexander Lukashenko addresses the army ahead of major demonstrations

Large demonstrations are planned for Sunday in Belarus against Alexander Lukashenko’s continued power. The Belarusian president has just ordered the army to ensure the country’s territorial integrity and accuses the protests of being driven “outside”.

Several important demonstrations are planned, Sunday 23 August, against the maintenance of power by Alexander Lukashenko, whose re-election was not recognized on Wednesday by the European Union. The Belarussian president calls on the army to ensure the country’s territorial integrity.

“I am so proud of Belarusians now because, after 26 years of fear, they are ready to defend their rights,” Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa told AFP on Saturday.

“I urge them to continue, not to stop, because it is really important to be united now in the fight for our rights,” added the 37-year-old English teacher who attended the meeting. presidential election on 9 August. “They must understand that we are not a protest movement. We are the people of Belarus, we are the majority and will not leave. We are no longer afraid of them.”

The young woman took refuge in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where a demonstration in the form of a human chain is planned to the border with Belarus.

“Defend our country’s territorial integrity”

On Saturday, President Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic with an iron fist for 26 years, went to inspect the military units stationed in Grodno, near the Polish border, according to a statement released by the Belarusian presidency.

Arriving at the western city’s military polygon, the 65-year-old leader condemned the protest movement, which he said was “outside”. “I order the Minister of Defense (…) to defend, above all, the pearl of western Belarus, whose center is in Grodno. And to take the strictest measures to defend the territorial integrity of our country,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

He reaffirmed the “important actions of the NATO forces in the immediate vicinity” of the Belarusian borders, on the Polish and Lithuanian territories, and announced that most of the country’s armed forces had been on standby. Major Belarusian military maneuvers are already planned in the Grodno region by the end of the month.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa considered that the head of state’s decision was “an attempt to dismiss us from internal problems” and that he had no choice but to enter into dialogue with the opposition.

Alexander Lukashenko had already announced on Friday that he had won the presidential election with 80% of the vote, and he claimed to have won the presidential election. He would “solve the problem” for the protest movement.

“Unfounded” accusations

As for the allegations made by Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday, the Atlantic Alliance that evening denied any “reinforcement” at the border with Belarus and ensured that the allegations in this direction were “unfounded”. “As we have already clarified, NATO does not pose a threat to Belarus or any other country and has no military reinforcement in the region,” read a brief statement.

President Lukashenko’s government “is trying to distract attention from internal Belarusian problems at all costs with completely unfounded statements about imaginary external threats,” said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

Krzysztof Szczerski, the Polish president’s chief of staff, reacted to the same note, describing the Belarusian head of state’s statements as “regime propaganda”, which he described as “regrettable and surprising”. “Poland (…) has no such project,” he told the Polish press agency PAP.

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun will visit Lithuania and Russia next week to discuss the situation in Belarus. He plans to meet Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa at this time, according to her entourage.

With AFP