This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Belarus has threatened to fire on protesters to break up demonstrations against Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as EU foreign ministers agreed the strongman leader should be personally included on a sanctions list.
Belarus’s First Deputy Interior Minister Henadz Kazakevich said in a video statement on October 14, “we will not leave the streets and will guarantee the law in the country. Law enforcement personnel and interior troops will use special equipment and lethal weapons if need be.”
Security forces have so far only acknowledged using water cannon, rubber bullets, and stun grenades to disperse the protesters.
Kazakevich claimed that protests had become “extremely radical” with stones and bottles thrown at police on October 11 by protesters armed with knives, who built barricades and set fire to tires.
“This has nothing in common with civil protest,” Kazakevich said, claiming that “groups of fighters, radicals, anarchists, and football fans” were participating.
His statement was the first time authorities have explicitly threatened to use firearms against opposition demonstrators.
The use of lethal weapons and live ammunition would mark a major escalation in the two-month standoff between Lukashenka and protesters, who have staged peaceful rallies against his disputed reelection in August and against the abuse and torture of detainees.
When protests broke out in August, police acknowledged opening fire on protesters in the southern city of Brest, killing one, but it remained unclear whether live bullets were used.
Kazakevich’s warning came after security forces cracked down harshly on new anti-Lukashenka protests on October 11, prompting EU foreign ministers to agree it was time to sanction Lukashenka himself.
Police deployed water cannons and stun grenades in Minsk and detained more than 700 people across the country, the Interior Ministry said.
On October 12, Belarusian pensioners also held the latest in a series of regular protests to demand new elections and Lukashenka’s departure.
European foreign ministers on October 12 reportedly agreed Lukashenka’s name should join a list of 40 of his officials already sanctioned by the EU with travel bans and asset freezes.