Belarus’ Lukashenko demands strict punishments for protest organizers

Belarus’ Lukashenko demands strict punishments for protest organizers

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, beleaguered by protests held every day since he claimed his sixth consecutive term in a disputed election a month ago, called on prosecutors on Thursday to seek strict punishments for captured protest organizers.

“You must not only give a legal assessment of the actions of organizers and agitators, but also undertake more powerful, acute measures of prosecutorial response to such actions,” Lukashenko said in comments carried by state news agency BelTA.

Protest leader Maria Kalesnikava, detained earlier this week, faces charges of seeking to overthrow the government.

Kalesnikava, 38, and most other members of the praesidium of a coordination council seeking to negotiate for a peaceful transition of power in Belarus have been either held in custody or forced to leave the country. The only member of the praesidium who remains free in Belarus is 72-year-old Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich.

Lukashenko emphasized in comments to senior officials on Thursday that he did not come to power to simply yield it.

“I want to tell you this like a man so that we don’t have some kind of understatement. I am often criticized that ‘He will not give up power.’ They are correct. That is not what the people elected me for,” Lukashenko said.

Lukashenko, 66, has led Belarus, a former Soviet republic between Russia and EU member state Poland, for more than a quarter century, tolerating little dissent.

The European Union has denounced the August 9 election as “neither free nor fair,” and condemned Belarusian authorities’ violent crackdown on protesters.

At least 7,000 people have been detained since the election. The United Nations has received 450 reports of torture and other abuse of such detainees.