US, EU hail Belarus democrats amid Russia protests

·2-min read
Blindfolded feminist activists hold photographs of women imprisoned after Belarus presidential elections in a January 2021 rally

The United States and the European Union on Friday hailed demonstrators in Belarus six months after disputed elections, in a message sure to irritate President Vladimir Putin of neighboring Russia.

US President Joe Biden's administration and the Europeans said they backed a "day of solidarity" called for Sunday by Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who believes she defeated President Alexander Lukashenko, an authoritarian ally of Putin, in August.

"We continue to be amazed by the exceptional strength, resilience and courage of the Belarusian people in the face of unyielding repression," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

"They continue to demand freedom and democracy. The world has been inspired by the people of Belarus, especially Belarusian women peacefully demonstrating for the right to have a voice in Belarus' future," he said.

Price said the United States backed a "peaceful and inclusive dialogue" in Belarus, where demonstrators have kept taking to the streets.

The European Union issued a similar statement, saying that "many thousands" have been detained in Belarus and pointing to "hundreds of documented cases of torture."

"The European Union continues to stand firmly with the people of Belarus," said a statement by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and enlargement coordinator Oliver Varhelyi, promising economic support for a democratic Belarus.

In a recent interview with AFP, Tikhanovskaya said that the "regime will collapse from within" and drew a parallel to protests in Russia led by Alexei Navalny, who was allegedly poisoned last year and was arrested on his return to Moscow last month.

Tikhanovskaya ran for president after her husband was imprisoned after trying to register to run against Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994.

Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania, is calling for elections in which Lukashenko is not a candidate, a proposal rejected by the president.

Biden has vowed to robustly promote democracy and to take a tough line on Russia, drawing a contrast with his predecessor Donald Trump's warm words for Putin.