Tens of thousands rally against Belarus strongman

Protesters argue with police standing in front of a police barricade blocking opposition rally from moving toward the Independence Palace, residence of the President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 06 September 2020

Tens of thousands rally against Belarus strongman

  • More than 100,000 people are estimated to have taken to the streets of the capital Minsk over the past three weekends
  • Troops, water cannon, armored personnel carriers and armored reconnaissance vehicles were deployed to the city center

MINSK: Huge crowds of Belarusian protesters on Sunday flooded the capital Minsk, urging strongman Alexander Lukashenko to quit power, defying the threat of arrest and a massive deployment of forces.
More than 100,000 people are estimated to have taken to the streets of the capital Minsk over the past three weekends and AFP journalists said the crowds in Minsk might have been even larger on Sunday.
Troops, water cannon, armored personnel carriers and armored reconnaissance vehicles were deployed to the city center but protesters from all walks of life — from parents with children to students and even priests-- rallied in a show of defiance.
Around 250 people were arrested nationwide including 175 in Minsk, according to the Viasna rights group.
An interior ministry spokesperson refused to confirm the figures.
Many protesters held red-and-white flags and placards while a band beat drums and played other instruments.
“Despite rain and pressure from the authorities, despite repression, many more people turned up in Minsk than last Sunday,” top opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova told reporters.
“I am convinced that protests will continue until we win.”
Unprecedented demonstrations broke out after Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, claimed re-election with 80 percent of the vote on August 9.
Opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she won the vote but Lukashenko’s security forces have detained thousands of protesters, many of whom accused police of beatings and torture. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Tikhanovskaya left Belarus under pressure from authorities and took shelter in EU member Lithuania.
Belarusians have been demonstrating across the country for nearly a month even though the protest movement lacks a clear leader, with many activists jailed or forced out of the country.
On Sunday, the protesters marched toward Lukashenko’s residence at the Independence Palace where they chanted “Tribunal” and “How much are you getting paid?“
One protester held a portrait of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who Germany says has been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent
“Please only live,” said the placard, referring to President Vladimir Putin’s main political rival. Navalny has been in a coma for the past two weeks after he drank what his aides suspect was a cup of poisoned tea in Siberia.
“Sasha, have some tea. It’s Putin’s treat,” some protesters chanted, referring to Lukashenko by his diminutive name.
Many say they will keep taking to the streets until Lukashenko quits.
“Lukashenko must go,” said Nikolai Dyatlov, a 32-year-old protester.
Another protester, 40-year-old Anastasia Bazarevich, said: “Half of the village where my grandma lives comes out and protests every night.”
Russia has said it will respond to any Western attempts to “sway the situation” and Putin has raised the possibility of sending military support.
As demonstrators gradually dispersed later Sunday, images showed hooded men in civilian clothes with batons chasing and beating demonstrators.
Putin has been keen to unify Russia and Belarus, and Moscow has accompanied its recent offers of military aid with calls for tighter integration.
Lukashenko has in the past ruled out outright unification and sought to play Moscow off against the West, but his options are now limited.
On Thursday, Lukashenko hosted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and said the two countries had managed to agree on issues they “could not agree earlier.”
The moustachioed leader said he planned to “dot all the i’s” with Putin in Moscow in the next few weeks.
Lukashenko made headlines this week when he claimed that his security forces had intercepted German calls showing that Navalny’s poisoning had been faked.
Belarusian state television broadcast the “intercept” in which a Mike in Warsaw and Nick in Berlin discuss Navalny’s materials and call Lukashenko a “tough nut to crack.”
Lukashenko also raised eyebrows last month when he brandished an assault rifle and had his 16-year-old son Nikolai appear next to him in a bulletproof vest while also wielding a weapon.


Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”