Candles and condemnation as thousands mourn death of Belarus protester

Belarusians bring flowers and candles with a portrait of Roman Bondarenko to a painted over mural at Change Square in Minsk, Belarus, late 12 November 2020. A 31-year-old Roman Bondarenko was reportedly injured by masked men on late 11 November in such a way that he died in hospital later. [EPA-EFE/STR]

Thousands of people carrying candles and flowers gathered in Minsk on Thursday (12 November) to mourn the death of a 31-year-old anti-government protester who they say was badly beaten by Belarusian security forces and died in hospital.

Witnesses say Roman Bondarenko was detained after scuffling with people in plain clothes who had come to a playground to remove red-and-white ribbons that represent the protest movement against veteran President Alexander Lukashenko.

The interior ministry denied responsibility for Bondarenko’s death, saying he was killed due to a scuffle with civilians.

The death is the latest flashpoint in months of mass protests against Lukashenko following a disputed presidential election in August. The opposition says Lukashenko rigged the vote to secure a sixth successive term.

Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and, buoyed by support from traditional ally Russia, has shown little inclination to step down. A violent crackdown prompted a new round of Western sanctions on Minsk.

EU launches sanctions against Belarus leader Lukashenko

The EU on Wednesday (4 November) launched a procedure to sanction Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, his son Viktor and 13 others held responsible for a post-election crackdown in the former Soviet state, diplomatic sources in Brussels said.

“Shocked by the death of Raman Bandarenka,” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said on Twitter.

“Astonishing cynicism, cruelty of the regime and blunt ignorance of people’s aspirations for changes.”

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who stood against Lukashenko in the election and then fled into exile, called Bondarenko a hero of Belarus.

“Unfortunately, despite all the efforts of the emergency hospital doctors, the patient died,” a statement by the health ministry said.

Britain expelled two Belarusian diplomats on Tuesday in response to two of its own diplomats being expelled from Belarus.

London also summoned the Belarusian ambassador to deliver a message that it believes the only way forward is for fresh elections to be held and for those responsible for violence against demonstrators to be held to account.

Biden vows to back Belarus opposition in removing Lukashenko

US presidential hopeful Joe Biden voiced support Tuesday (27 October) for the Belarus opposition in its general strike against President Alexander Lukashenko, saying the strongman was illegitimate.

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