Belarus to end neutral, non-nuclear status following referendum critics say was rigged

Belarusian authorities say greater than half of the nation’s voters authorised constitutional reforms that will enable its authoritarian chief to remain in energy till 2035 and open the best way for stronger army co-operation with Russia, whereas the Belarusian opposition denounced the vote as a sham.

The referendum on the reforms occurred Sunday, a number of days after Belarus’ closest ally, Russia, invaded its neighbour, Ukraine. Moscow deployed forces to Belarusian territory weeks earlier beneath the pretext of joint army drills after which despatched them rolling into Ukraine as a part of a devastating assault that started final Thursday.

Belarus’ Central Election Fee mentioned that 65.2 per cent of voters supported the constitutional amendments.

They create again limits on presidential phrases that had been abolished throughout President Alexander Lukashenko’s tenure, permitting a president solely two five-year phrases in workplace. Nevertheless, the restriction will solely take impact as soon as a “newly elected president” assumes workplace, which supplies Lukashenko a possibility to run for 2 extra phrases after his present one expires in 2025.

The adjustments additionally shed Belarus’ impartial and non-nuclear standing, paving the best way for nearer army ties with Russia. Lukashenko has beforehand mentioned his nation might host Russian nuclear weapons.

A voter fills out a poll in Vitebsk, Belarus, on Sunday. Belarusian opposition charged that nobody was counting the votes, and it was a rigged election. (Aleksandr Khitrov/BelTA/Reuters)

In accordance with election officers, solely 10.1 per cent voted in opposition to the amendments. The voter turnout was reported to be at 78.6 per cent.

Belarusian opposition charged that nobody was counting the votes, and it was a rigged election.

“It’s a betrayal of the nation, betrayal of the nation,” opposition chief Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya instructed the Related Press from Lithuania, the place she has been in exile since August 2020. “With a purpose to maintain on to energy, Lukashenko held a faux referendum and provided our lands for the Russian troops to invade (Ukraine).”

Tsikhanouskaya mentioned that scraping the clauses about Belarus’ impartial and non-nuclear standing was “a menace to all of Europe, as a result of it is the identical as giving matches to a baby.”

Crackdown on protesters

In 2020, Lukashenko relied on Moscow’s assist to outlive the biggest and essentially the most sustained wave of mass protests within the nation’s historical past. Large demonstrations rocked the nation that yr after he was awarded a sixth time period within the August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and the West denounced as rigged.

Protesters demanding a brand new election and Lukashenko’s ouster confronted a brutal crackdown from the authorities, with greater than 35,000 arrested and 1000’s overwhelmed. Key opposition figures, together with Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s essential contender within the election, left the nation amid the clampdown, together with 1000’s of extraordinary Belarusians.

Tsikhnaouskaya urged Belarusians to make use of the referendum as a pretext for extra protests.

PHOTOS | Belarus police crack down on 2020 protest:

“So long as he is retaining his grip on energy with drive, we are going to preserve having threats akin to international troops on our soil or nuclear weapons,” she mentioned.

A whole bunch of Belarusians took to the streets Sunday in 15 cities throughout the nation, protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine within the largest present of defiance in Belarus in two years.

In accordance with the Viasna human rights centre, 726 individuals have been detained over the demonstrations. A few of them have been apprehended in a single day of their properties.

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