- Nationwide protests have been raging throughout Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko, who has served for 26 years and is widely considered Europes “last dictator,” won an election many believed was rigged.
- In addition to controlling the vote count, media, and security forces, Lukashenko also arrested many of his political opponents in the race leading up to the election, forcing the rest to flee.
- He was challenged by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of one of the men he arrested, and despite overwhelming popular support for her, she only won 10% of the vote.
- When she went to contest the results, she was held in a room for several hours an then disappeared, reappearing on video the next day to announce that she had fled the country.
- Since Sunday, protests have continued all over the country. Security forces have responded violently and arrested over 6,000 people.
Protests continued in cities and towns across Belarus on Wednesday for the fourth consecutive day following the re-election of the country’s long-term leader, Alexander Lukashenko.
On Sunday, following the news that Lukashenko had won another term, demonstrations broke out nationwide in what has been described as the biggest anti-government protests the country has seen in decades.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Minsk and other cities on Sunday. According to reports and footage, security forces responded by trying to break up protests by force, beating the demonstrators and using tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, water cannons, and other projectiles.
Also on Sunday, the country was hit with massive internet and cellular blackouts, and many social media sites were blocked. While Lukashenko denied that the government had shut down the internet and blamed the outage on a large cyberattack from abroad, experts have said there is no evidence of that.
Intermittent outages resumed throughout the week, though on Wednesday it was reported that the internet had largely been restored. The protests, however, still continued, and security forces have kept clashing violently with protesters, using force at demonstrations in multiple cities.
In one city, officials said police used live ammunition after protesters tried to attack them with steel bars. Government authorities said Wednesday that they have arrested more than 6,000 nationwide in the last three days alone.
Anti-Lukashenko Movement Grows
The unrest follows months of smaller protests leading up to the election, where Lukashenko, who has served as the president of Belarus for more than 26 years, was running for his sixth term.
He was first elected when the office was established in 1994, which, not by coincidence, was also the last election in the country that outside observers have said was free and fair.
Since taking office, Lukashenko, who has been described as Europe’s “last dictator,” has kept tight control over the elections. In addition to controlling vote counting, he also controls Belarus’ huge security system as well the state media, which always publishes news favoring him and criticizing his opponents.
Throughout his authoritarian rule, the government has continually and frequently suppressed opposition, but heading into last Sunday’s election, Lukashenko was experiencing the largest and most significant opposition to his rule since he assumed power.
Over time, his policies have become more and more unpopular as they have failed to modernize and grow Belarus’ economy. Lukashenko was also facing a lot of anger over his handling of the pandemic, which he had repeatedly downplayed, even suggesting at one point that drinking vodka could cure the coronavirus.
In the months leading up to the election, protesters took to the street to demonstrate against Lukashenko, who responded by cracking down. He claimed that the protests were part of a foreign plot and began mass arrests.
According to Viasna, a Belarussian human-rights group, there were more than 1,500 arbitrary detentions throughout the whole election campaign, which started in early May.
In addition to protesters and journalists, Lukashenko also began arresting several of his major political opponents in the upcoming election on charges widely believed to be false.
Then in July, with all his opponents either in jail or forced to flee the country to avoid being in jail, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a popular YouTuber who was one of Lukashenko’s jailed opponents, registered to run. She became the united opposition candidate and received backing from the others who were unable to run.
For weeks, she went around the country campaigning, sometimes drawing crowds estimated at over 60,000, making them some of the largest political rallies in Belarus since the fall of the Soviet Union.
But even before Election Day, the opposition expected the results would be illegitimate. On Sunday, the state-run election authority declared that Lukashenko had won with 80% of the vote and that Tikhanovskaya had only won just under 10%.
Immediately, the opposition and many other international governments dismissed the outcome as clearly rigged. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign and independent observers reportedly claimed that there was widespread ballot stuffing and falsifications.
As she had indicated before, Tikhanovskaya said she would refuse to accept the results. On Monday, she went to the Central Election Commission headquarters to formally contest the vote count.
According to a supporter who said she went with her, Tikhanovskaya was in a room for three hours with two senior security service officials. About an hour into the meeting, the supporter said she saw several people enter the room with black bags that contained what looked like video equipment.
After another two hours, she was told that Tikhanovskaya had left through another entrance. She did not see her after that.
On Tuesday, Tikhanovskaya posted a video on YouTube saying she had fled the country, and that she did so for the sake of her two children.
“I made a very hard decision, I’ve made this decision on my own,” she said. “I know that many people will understand me, many will judge me and many will hate me but god forbid you will ever have to face the choice that I had to face.”
However, the same day, another video of Tikhanovskaya was released that many speculate was clearly taken under duress, likely while at the commission headquarters.
In the video, reading from a prepared notecard, she called on the people to Belarus to stop protesting and insisted “the nation has made its choice” and Lukashenko had won.
While Tikhanovskaya did not say where she had fled to, her campaign said she was in Lithuania, a fact that was later confirmed by the country’s Foreign Minister.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (BBC) (The Guardian)
5 Dead, 2 Injured After Bow and Arrow Attack in Norway
Police have called the incident a terror attack, though exact details regarding the suspect’s motives remain unclear.
Super Market Attack
The Norwegian town of Kongsberg is reeling from a deadly incident at Coop Extra supermarket on Wednesday that police are treating as “an act of terrorism.”
Shortly before 6 p.m., a 37-year old Danish man entered the market, armed with a bow and arrow, along with other weapons. He then began firing at those inside the building.
Authorities quickly responded and were on the scene within five minutes. Despite a police confrontation with the suspect, the attack continued. Four women and one man were ultimately killed while two others were left injured.
The suspect initially avoided arrest after managing to flee the scene. Police Chief Ole Bredrup Sæverud told reporters Thursday that it took 35 minutes to catch the attacker.
While police described the incident as a terror attack, they refused to specify a motive. Officials did hint that the rampage might have been religiously motivated by revealing that police had previously been in contact with the suspect due to his conversion to Islam and possible connections to radical content and teachings. Still, Sæverud clarified that the perpetrator hadn’t been actively investigated at all in 2021.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was just hours away from leaving office after she was ousted in recent elections, described reports of the scene as “horrifying” on Wednesday. Incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in a Facebook post from Thursday morning that the attack was a “cruel and brutal act.”
Norway’s King Harald expressed his sympathies to the mayor of Kongs-berg, telling the country, “We sympathize with the relatives and injured in the grief and despair.”
“And we think of all those affected in Kongs-berg who have experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place. It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”
Attacks of this nature are rare in Norway. In 2019, a right-wing gunman tried to enter a mosque before being overpowered and hitting no one. Wednesday’s attack is the most deadly since July 2011, when a far-right extremist killed 77 people at a Labour party summer camp.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Protests Erupt in Italy Over World’s Toughest Vaccine Mandate
The violence is believed to have been instigated by far-right groups that oppose COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic-related safety measures.
Green Pass Pushback
Demonstrators gathered in Rome over the weekend to protest against Italy’s plans to require a coronavirus “Green Pass” for all workers starting Oct. 15.
The Green Pass is a European Union initiative that shows whether someone is vaccinated, has recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or has received a negative COVID test in the past 48 hours.
Since August, Italy has required the pass for entry at restaurants and use of long-distance trains, along with nearly every other activity that involves interaction with others or use of a public space. Now, the pass will be required to enter a workplace, which critics argue is particularly harsh.
Individuals who can’t produce a valid Green Pass will be suspended without pay, making it the most extreme of any COVID-19 mandate in the world.
The weekend protests started out peaceful, with people chanting “Liberta,” which means freedom. However, the scene turned violent by Saturday when a group of protesters affiliated with the far-right Forza Nuova party decided to storm the headquarters of the CGIL, Italy’s biggest and oldest labor union.
Protesters then marched towards the Prime Minister’s office, prompting police to respond with anti-riot measures like tear gas, water cannons, and shield charges.
It’s unclear how many protesters were hurt in the ongoing fighting, but dozen of police officers were reportedly hurt in the scuffle. By Sunday evening. at least 12 protesters were arrested, many of who are members of Forza Nuova, including its leader Roberto Fiore. Authorities also indicated in a press conference on Monday that it had identified at least 600 other people who took part in illegal activities during the demonstrations.
Fiore was unapologetic about the rioting, and Forza Nuova said in a statement, “The popular revolution will not stop, with or without us, until the Green Pass is definitively withdrawn. Saturday was a watershed between the old and the new. The people decided to raise the level of the clash.”
Saturday’s events have led many of the country’s largest political parties, including the 5Star Movement and the Democratic Paty, to support a motion calling for Nuova Forza and similar groups to be dismantled in line with a constitutional provision from 1952 that bans fascists parties.
While that motion is still going through the legislative process, prosecutors have already seized the group’s website in line with a 1988 law that bans inciting violence through public communications.
“The events [on Saturday] take us back to the darkest and most dramatic moments of our history and they are an extremely serious and unacceptable attack on democracy,” Valeria Fedeli, a senator with the center-left Democratic Party, said on Monday.
The violence from the weekend may make it seem like a sizeable chunk of Italians are against the vaccine; however, over 70% of all Italians are already vaccinated, making it one of the highest rates in the world.
According to polling from the summer, most Italians think the new rules will help in the long run and prevent another catastrophe like last year when the country ran out of room to bury the dead due to the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.
Romanian Government To Disband After No-Confidence Vote
The vote comes after Prime Minister Florin Cîțu caused a rift with political allies and faced criticism for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Florin Cîțu, Alleged “Tyrant”
Romania’s center-right governing body collapsed Tuesday after the legislature passed a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Florin Cîțu.
The leader’s downfall was facilitated by the normal opposition, the center-left Social Democratic Party, the far-right Alliance for the Unity of Romanians, and the Union to Save Romania. The Union is considered a political wildcard because, until last month, the right-wing party was part of Cîțu’s governing coalition.
The party withdrew from Cîțu’s government after multiple of its members were sacked, including the Justice Minister, prompting the party to describe Cîțu as a “tyrant.”
Other parties in the legislature particularly opposed Cîțu due to his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic since taking office in December. COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed over the last month and have averages over 11,000 daily new cases since October 6.
Tuesday’s no-confidence vote was a landslide victory, with 281 members voting to replace him and all members of his party abstaining or boycotting the vote. Despite this, even if they had voted in favor of Cîțu, the opposition had more than enough to pass the 230 vote threshold.
Avoiding Another Election
President Klaus Iohannis, a staunch ally of Cîțu, has called on the political parties to hold consultations next week and try to form a new government rather than hold new elections because they last occurred in December.
“Romania must be governed; we are in a pandemic, winter is coming, there is an energy price crisis…and now a political crisis. We need solutions and mature decisions,” the president told reporters.
He also took a jab at the Union to Save Romania, saying that the fall of the government was caused by “cynical politicians, some of whom are disguised as reformists.”
The Union responded in a statement of its own, saying it was “unpleasantly surprised by the fact that President Iohannis condoned the rushed, chaotic, and ill-conceived actions of former Prime Minister Florin Cîțu that forced the [Union] to leave the cabinet.”
Some analysts within Romanian media think that Cîțu’s party may try to form a minority government with the Social Democratic Party, the left-leaning party that initiated this no-confidence vote, with the caveat that Cîțu is replaced as Prime Minister. If that doesn’t occur, Iohannis has the power to simply reappoint Cîțu at the risk of another no-confidence vote.
If Cîțu’s appointment is confirmed within 60 days, then elections will take place. The Social Democratic Party, which is already the largest in the legislature, currently stands to win the most seats. Unlike its rivals, the party is polling positively, leading the group to push for new elections sooner rather than later.