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Belarus Cracks Down on Journalists Amid Continued Protests

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  • Belarus has experienced nearly a month of constant protests against President Alexander Lukashenko over what is widely viewed as a stolen election.
  • Lukashenko has turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help, who has slowly increased his rhetoric from helping protect Belarus against external threats to authorizing a police force to help against protesters if the situation turns bad enough.
  • However, despite instances of brutal crackdowns, the protests have been largely peaceful, and Lukashenko has no intention of stepping down.
  • On the recommendation of the country’s counter-terrorism office, Belarus revoked the credentials of nearly two dozen journalists, even going so far as to deport some.

Unrest in Belarus

Over the last week, Belarus has revoked the media credentials for journalists, seen some of its largest protests to date, and had Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening the use of Russian security forces against protesters in the country.

The unrest in Belarus stems from the country’s August 9 presidential elections, which saw its longtime authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko going against political outsider Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Despite her widespread popularity, official results had Lukashenko winning 80% of the vote, triggering massive protests across the country that have continued on since. Shortly after the results, Tikhanovskaya appeared in neighboring Lithuania, with different reports emerging about whether she fled to the country or was escorted there by Belarusian security personnel.

The initial protests against the allegedly fraudulent election results saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets, with over 7,000 people being detained. Since then, there’s been a pattern of large protests, nearly all of which are peaceful, and differing police responses. Initially, security forces would severely crackdown on the protests but then back off and let the protesters march at Independence Square, only to crackdown again if protesters approached government buildings.

Revoking Journalist Credentials

While security forces have been trying to contain the protests through various methods, the regime focused on a new target this week: journalists.

On Saturday, it was reported by various news agencies that their reporters either lost their accreditation to report in Belarus or were even deported from the country. The Associated Press, Germany’s ARD Television, and the BBC each had two reporters lose accreditation, and four of those journalists were also deported. The U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said five of its journalists lost accreditation, while the Belarusian Association of Journalists said 17 Belarusians working for foreign outlets lost their credentials. 

Alarmingly, the decision to revoke credentials was taken on the recommendation of Belarus’ counter-terrorism unit, with no other information given out as to why these journalists were targeted.

In response to this news, exiled-candidate Tikhanovskaya said, “If true, it is another sign that this regime is morally bankrupt and the only way it will attempt to cling onto power is by fear and intimidation.”

“This tactic will not work. Belarusian people are not afraid anymore. We will win. The darkest hour is always before the dawn.”

The U.S. Embassy condemned the move, saying in a statement: “We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a democratic, prosperous future and support their call for the government of Belarus to carry out democratic reforms and respect human rights.”

Germany also responded by calling on the Belarusian ambassador to answer questions about the removal of journalists.

Sunday’s Renewal of Protests

The backdrop for the situation in Belarus over the last month has been nearly non-stop protests. Sunday saw some of the biggest to-date, with between tens and hundreds of thousands taking to the streets.

The weekend was also Lukashenko’s birthday, and protesters sent well-wishes by chanting “Happy Birthday, You Rat!”

Although Sunday was largely a peaceful event, there were scenes of armored personnel carriers heading towards Independence Palace and protesters shouting “shame!” as they passed.

Independence Palace was also the scene of a face off against police. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 140 people were arrested because of Sunday’s events.

Lukashenko, for his part, has tried to maintain a strongman image during all of this, vowing that no re-election or recount would take place. He’s been spotted at least twice in public with a flak jacket and carrying rifles.

Putin Offers His Help

Despite attempts to look strong, Lukashenko has turned to outside help, notably to Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Lukashenko’s birthday, Putin called the leader to invite the embattled Belarusian to Moscow for a visit.

This is just the latest show of support by Putin. Since the start of the massive protests, Putin has been active in trying to keep Lukashenko in power. Some of those efforts include promising a Russian presence in Belarus if necessary.

Both countries are justifying the remarks and promises by claiming that ‘foreign powers’ are trying to oust Lukashenko, and that NATO was amassing troops in neighboring Poland, which NATO denies.

That language was also used by Putin and Lukashenko to invoke a defense pact between the nations. Belarus has strong linguistic and cultural ties to Russia, and unlike most former-Soviet nations, it has kept a close relationship with Russia.

The relationship was so close that in the late ’90s Russia and Belarus were working out deals to become a unified nation. Those deals were more-or-less frozen after Putin first became the Russian president, but they still resulted in Russia and Belarus having an extremely strong defense treaty and a system for citizens of either nation to freely live in the other.

The defense pact was used to justify an initial Russian presence in Belarus just in case there was an external military threat, but that seems to have changed on Friday. Putin told state television that he ordered the creation of a “certain reserve of law enforcement officers” at Lukashenko’s request that would be ready to intervene in Belarus if things got out of hand.

He also ominously warned protesters, “We have agreed not to use it until the situation starts spinning out of control and extremist elements acting under the cover of political slogans cross certain boundaries and engage in banditry and start burning cars, houses and banks or take over administrative buildings.”

There’s now a cloud hovering over the protests in Belarus: if protesters push the protests to the levels Ukraine saw when it ousted its pro-Russian leader in 2014, then Russia claims it will directly intervene.

Ukraine during the 2014 Orange Revolution. Via: New York Times

For Putin this is multilayered: many media outlets, like the New York Times, think this is an effort for not only Lukashenko to look like he has support, but also for Putin to look strong. The Russian leader is currently facing his own struggles internally. One state in eastern Russia has been rocked by months of constant protests after Putin arrested the popular governor of the region. This is a marked difference from past Russian protests, which are often in the urban centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Additionally, the recent poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a prominent opposition member in Russia, has led to widespread discontent. The Russian government denies any poisoning took place, while doctors in Russia and Germany, where Navalny was transferred to for recovery, say he was without-a-doubt poisoned.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (BBC) (EuroNews)

International

Gang That Kidnapped American and Canadian Missionaries in Haiti Seeks $17 Million Ransom

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The incident has fueled calls for the government to take action against gangs, which control many territories in the country and have repeatedly carried out large-scale abductions for ransom


Missionary Abduction

The gang that abducted 17 American and Canadian missionaries in Haiti on Saturday is demanding $17 million for their safe release, Haitian officials said Monday.

The group, which consists of one Canadian and 16 Americans, are all part of Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish and Mennonite charity based out of Ohio with a long history of working in Haiti.

While on their way to visit an orphanage in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince, the group’s bus was stopped at gunpoint by the 400 Mawozo gang. The gang is known for being one the most dangerous in the area, reportedly having about 150 members.

Multiple outlets, including CNN and Reuters, report that during the gang’s confrontation with the missionaries some victims managed to get messages out to associates to let them know what was going on. One even managed to drop a pin location on his mobile phone, helping authorities get a better idea of where exactly this happened.

By 4:53 p.m on Saturday, the kidnappers contacted Christian Aid Ministries to make their steep demands. According to authorities, the request is a noticeable jump from the thousands to tens of thousands the gang typically asks for.

Lack of Government Control

While Haitian authorities are involved in the investigation to free the missionaries, they actually have little power in the area. Croix des Bouquets is largely out of the government’s control and is instead run by 400 Mawozo. Government authority being replaced by gang activity isn’t uncommon in Haiti, and in some places, government control is almost completely lacking. This was highlighted on Sunday when Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to turn back from a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of revolutionary war hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines due to its placement in gang territory.

The issue makes recovering the missionaries far more complex, but Haitian authorities aren’t alone. The FBI has been involved in the investigation and is continuing to help Haitian authorities.

“The FBI is part of a coordinated US government effort to get the Americans involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, no further information is available at this time,” The agency said in a statement to Reuters.

Reports indicate that the hostages are being held in some kind of safe house for the gang. Currently, no one is believed to be physically hurt. The gang has warned against harming the hostages, although according to a Haitian security forces member who spoke with CNN, the group didn’t seem too worried about those threats.

Haitians Call for Changes

Abductions in Haiti have always been an issue, but the problem has become particularly bad lately. In 2020, the Haitian National Police reported 234 kidnappings. In the first eight months of this year, there have been at least 328.

Some organizations claim that number is actually low. In fact, the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights reported that at least 600 people have been abducted this year. The center said that much of the increase was caused by 400 Mawozo, who have figured out that kidnapping busloads of people is more profitable than just taking individuals.

The issue is so prolific that just before the kidnapping on Saturday, a Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike starting Monday, with its president further justifying the move in a written statement a day later.

“We call on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide us safety or for them to resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transportation sector is an easy target for kidnappers all over the country,” Union President Méhu Changeux wrote. “We lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country.” 

Since Monday, many parts of the country have come to a standstill amid the strike, putting increased pressure on a government with little resources to handle the underlying cause of discontent: gang activity and government instability.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Associated Press)

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International

5 Dead, 2 Injured After Bow and Arrow Attack in Norway

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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.

Unclear Motives

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.

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Protests Erupt in Italy Over World’s Toughest Vaccine Mandate

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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.”

Fascist Banning

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.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NPR) (Politico)

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