Belarus minister says police could use guns during protests

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) — The Interior Minister of Belarus Yuri Karayev warned that authorities wouldn’t hesitate to approve the use of live ammunition on protesters if it’s necessary to quash more than two months of demonstrations against the reelection of the country’s authoritarian president.

In a YouTube interview released on Wednesday, Interior Minister said he thinks that police have been too tolerant of protesters and that they will take a tougher line. He noted that many officers have been injured during the post-election unrest.

“A war is going on. There has been an open and blatant pressure fuelled by impunity and lack of fear,” Karayev said.

He added that police would continue to rely mostly on non-lethal weapons but would use firearms if they faced a violent response from protesters.

“A police officer was nearly killed, he was being strangled but he only fired warning shots in the air,” the minister said, adding that he was working to change that attitude and was telling police that their lives depend “on how quickly you pull your gun”.

In another statement intended to turn the heat on protesters, Belarus’ Prosecutor General Andrei Shved said his office has opened 657 criminal inquiries into violence against police. He added that some of them involve charges of terrorism.

Since the country’s August 9 presidential election, Belarus has been rocked by the largest and most sustained protests in President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. Official election results gave him a landslide victory to a sixth term. The demonstrators have rejected the official results as a sham and demanded Lukashenko’s resignation.

Police detained thousands and brutally beat hundreds of peaceful protesters during the first few days of protests, triggering international outrage and prompting the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) to introduce sanctions against Belarusian officials accused of vote fraud and the clampdown on demonstrations.

Lukashenko’s main election challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left for Lithuania under pressure from authorities after the vote, had urged a nationwide strike if Lukashenko did not resign,

release political prisoners and stop the police crackdown. She gave the go-ahead for the strike to begin on Monday after police in Minsk and other cities once again dispersed demonstrators with stun grenades and tear gas.

The strike, however, has failed to get enough traction to stymie production at major state-run plants and factories that make up the core of the Belarus economy. Some factory workers walked off the job, thousands of students and retirees marched in Minsk, and some small business owners closed their doors, but most state enterprises have continued to operate as usual.