- 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.
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)
Police Cause Stampede Killing 125 at Indonesian Soccer Stadium
The sports game turned bloodbath was among the deadliest in the sport’s history.
Trampled by the Crowd
At least 125 people died after police fired tear gas, sparking a chaotic stampede toward the exits at a soccer match in Indonesia, according to local officials.
The game between Arema, the home team in East Java’s Malang city, and Persebaya Surabaya took place Saturday night at the Kanjuruhan Stadium.
The event organizer had prohibited Persebaya fans from attending the game in an effort to prevent rivalrous brawling, but that only ensured the stadium would be exclusively packed with riled-up Arema fans.
When Arema lost 3-2, hundreds of spectators poured onto the field and some reportedly threw bottles and other objects at the players and managers. Several cop cars were also toppled outside the stadium and set ablaze.
Eyewitness accounts claim that riot police beat people with shields and batons, then fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd and even into the stands.
Hordes of people, many of them dizzy and blinded by the chemical, clambered desperately for the exits.
The ensuing stampede quickly left 34 people dead, both from being trampled and suffocated, including two police officers and possibly some children, according to some reports. Many more were badly hurt and rushed to hospitals, but as dozens of them succumbed to their injuries, the death toll climbed to at least 125.
An official estimate initially put the number at 174, but it was later revised down due to some deaths being counted twice.
As many as 300 other individuals may have sustained injuries during the incident.
Who is to Blame?
Some human rights groups pointed fingers at the police for provoking the mayhem by improperly deploying tear gas.
“The excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities,” Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.
The Foundation also blamed the local soccer committee, which sold 42,000 tickets in a stadium only meant to seat 38,000 people, for filling the venue over capacity.
Typically, tear gas is meant to put distance between the rioters and police, dispersing the crowd in an intended direction, not to be used indiscriminately in a secure location like a sports stadium.
Moreover, the global soccer governing body FIFA prohibits the use of tear gas.
“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” President Joko Widodo said in a televised address. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”
He said he had asked National Police Chief Listyo Sigit to investigate the incident and ordered an evaluation of security at soccer matches.
East Java’s police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas in a news conference on Sunday.
“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” he said.
Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.
Dozens of Indonesians have died in soccer-related violence since the 1990s, but Saturday’s tragedy is among the deadliest in soccer history.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times)
Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Cuba as Florida Braces for Devastation
When it hits the sunshine state, Ian is expected to be a category 3 hurricane.
Ian Lands in Cuba
Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba Tuesday morning as a major category 3 storm, battering the western parts of the country with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force winds, flash floods, and mudslides are expected. Officials said that around 50,000 people have been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon.
According to reports, flooding has damaged houses and tobacco crops in the region, and widespread power outages have also been reported.
As dangerous conditions continue in Cuba, Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and pass west of the Florida Keys later on Tuesday, becoming a category 4 before the end of the day.
Officials predict it will drop back to a category 3 before making landfall as a major hurricane in Florida, which it is expected to do Wednesday evening.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said that Ian is currently forecast to land “somewhere between Fort Meyers and Tampa.” She added that the storm is expected to slow down as it hits Flordia, extending the potential devastation.
Forecasts of Ian’s path, however, remain uncertain, leaving residents all over Florida scrambling to prepare for the storm.
Schools have closed down, airports have suspended operations, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has activated the National Guard and taken steps to ensure power outages can be remedied, warning that many should anticipate losing power.
There are also numerous storm and surge watches and warnings in place across Florida and in parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
Evacuation warnings have been implemented throughout many parts of Florida, and officials have said that around 2.5 million people were under some kind of evacuation order by Tuesday afternoon.
Mandatory evacuations have been put in place in several counties, largely focused on coastal and low-lying areas. Some of those evacuation orders have extended to parts of Tampa — Florida’s third-largest city.
Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in over a century — a fact that just further emphasizes the unusual path this storm is taking.
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has a tool to track evacuation zones, as well as more resources at floridadisaster.org. For those looking for shelter, the Red Cross has a system to find one nearby.
The current evacuations are being driven by a number of very serious threats posed by Hurricane Ian. According to the NHC, hurricane-force winds, tropical storm conditions, heavy rainfall, and flooding are expected throughout much of the region.
“Considerable” flooding is also expected in central Florida and predicted to extend into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.
One of the biggest threats this hurricane poses is storm surge flooding at the coast — which has been a driving factor in the evacuations.
“Life-threatening storm surge looks increasingly likely along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning is in effect, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region,” the NHC warned Tuesday.
As many experts have pointed out, these dangerous threats of storm surges and catastrophic flooding have been drastically exacerbated by climate change. Specifically, sea level rise driven by climate change makes surges and flooding more likely and more extreme.
According to Axios, a profound example can be found in St. Petersburg, Florida — which is expected to be impacted by Ian — and where sea levels have risen by nearly nine inches since 1947.
That, however, is not only the real-time impact of climate change that is evident from this storm. In addition to climate change being “linked to an increase in rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes,” Axios also notes that Ian “has been rapidly intensifying over extremely warm sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean that are running above average for this time of year.”
“Climate change favors more instances of rapidly intensifying storms such as Hurricane Ian, due to the combination of warming seas and a warmer atmosphere that can carry additional amounts of water vapor,” the outlet added.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Giorgia Meloni Claims Victory in Far-Right Shift for Italy
Her party has neofascist roots, and she has praised Mussolini in the past.
An Election Without Precedent
Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party grabbed the largest share of votes in Italy’s national election by a wide margin, giving the post of prime minister to the first woman and most right-wing politician since Benito Mussolini.
She declared victory early Monday morning after exit polls showed her party overwhelmingly in the lead with at least 26% of the vote, making it the dominant faction in the right-wing coalition, which got 44%.
The other two parties in the alliance — Mateo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — took 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.
The center-left alliance only garnered 26% of the vote, with 63% of votes counted, according to the interior ministry.
Voter turnout dropped to a record low at only 63.91%, nine points below the rate in 2018, with turnout especially dismal in southern regions like Sicily.
Meloni is set to become prime minister in the coming weeks as a new government is formed, and the rest of Europe is bracing for what many see as a neofascist demagogue to take power in the continent’s third largest economy.
Speaking to media and supporters following the preliminary results, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.” She promised to govern for all Italians and unite the country.
But her relatively extreme politics — opposed to immigration, the European Union, and what she calls “gender ideology” — unsettles many who fear she will roll back civil rights and form a Euroskeptic alliance with other far-right leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
The Next Mussolini?
During the election, Meloni stressed that she is a conservative, not a fascist, but opponents point to her rhetoric, past statements, and party’s history as evidence to the contrary.
“Either you say yes or you say no,” she howled to Spain’s far-right Vox party earlier this year. “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sex identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, not the abysm of death. Yes to the university of the cross, no to the Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass migration. Yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance. Yes to the sovereignty of peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. And yes to our civilization.”
Meloni co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 as an alternative to the more mainstream right-wing parties. It has roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neofascist party that sprouted in the wake of World War II to continue Mussolini’s legacy after his party was banned. The Movement’s symbol — a tricolor flame — remains on the Brothers of Italy’s Flag today, and Meloni has refused to remove it.
She joined the MSI’s youth branch in the 1990s and went on to lead it after the party was renamed the National Alliance.
“I believe that Mussolini was a good politician, which means that everything he did, he did for Italy,” Meloni said at the time.
For the first decade, Brothers of Italy struggled to win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote, and it only garnered 4% in the 2018 election.
But in 2021 and 2022, it distinguished itself as the only opposition party to the unity government that fell apart last July, causing its popularity to inflate.
But the party still wrestles with its fascistic roots; last week, it suspended a member who was running for parliament because a local newspaper revealed that he had made comments supporting Adolf Hitler.
In an August video, Meloni promised to impose a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to interdict Libyan refugees from crossing to Southern Europe on boats. She has also discussed pulling Italy out of the Eurozone or even the E.U. entirely, but she moderated her rhetoric toward Europe during the election.
Italy has received some 200 billion euros in European pandemic recovery funds, and it is set to receive more unless the Union punishes Meloni’s government for democratic backsliding.