Authorities Ban August 16 Opposition March
The Minsk city government has denied permission for opposition forces to stage a march and a rally on August 16 to demand an international investigation into the disappearances of four opponents of Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, former MP Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasowski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski went missing in 1999-2000. They are widely believed to have been abducted and murdered by a government-run death squad.
The organizers wanted the march to start at 6 p.m. and run from the square in front of the National Academy of Sciences to Liberty Square in downtown Minsk, where a rally would be held.
In its written reply, the Minsk City Executive Committee explains that permission is denied because there are flaws in the organizers’ application, but stops short of saying what is specifically wrong with it.
The city authorities’ explanation is absurd, Viktor Ivashkevich of the Belarusian Popular Front, one of the official organizers, told reporters in Minsk on Thursday. He noted that he had repeatedly written such applications and knew perfectly well how this should be done.
Owing to the ban, the organizers have to abandon the idea of staging a march, Mr. Ivashkevich said. Nonetheless, a demonstration will be staged anyway, but it will have the form of a "chain of concerned people," he noted.
"No one can prevent us from gathering together in the square near the Academy of Sciences at 6 p.m. on August 16 and standing there with images of the missing in our hands," he said. "Such a demonstration will be held in any case. Its form isn’t contrary to law."
Participants will be abiding by regulations, said Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party. "If someone decides to walk anywhere, this doesn’t mean it will be a march," he said.
According to Mr. Lyabedzka, the demonstration should indicate whether opposition figures feel concerned about what is going on in the country. "We have a lot of parties and organizations and if only their leaders take part in the event, the attendance will be large."
Andrey Sannikaw, leader of a group called European Belarus and a former deputy foreign minister, pointed out that foreign embassies in Minsk were going to observe the demonstration.
By denying permission for the march, the city government indirectly admitted that the problem of the disappearances exists, and that authorities were involved in them, Mr. Sannikaw noted.
In these circumstances, opposition forces should do everything possible for these 10-year-old crimes to be solved, he suggested.