The organizers have expressed satisfaction with an opposition rally staged in Minsk's downtown Kastrychnitskaya Square on November 24 as a meeting of presidential candidates with voters.
About 1,500 people attended the event, held in defiance of the city government's ban on campaign events in downtown squares, including Kastrychnitskaya Square. The turnout was larger than expected by the organizers, Paval Sevyarynets, the campaign chief of candidate Vital Rymashewski, told BelaPAN. "We actually expected the meeting to draw a few hundred people," Mr. Sevyarynets said. "If more people came this time, more people will turn out for the post-election protest in Kastrychnitskaya Square on December 19 than is currently predicted."
The lenience of police toward the demonstrators was "a smoke screen for Europe," Mr. Sevyarynets said. "We don’t doubt that the organizers will be punished tomorrow," he said. "The fact that the demonstration was not broken up is not evidence of democratization. It's just a step back to apply severe penalties later."
The meeting was the most successful opposition event in recent months, Zmitser Dashkevich, leader of a youth group called Malady Front, told BelaPAN. "We’ve proved that people want change and put to shame the cowardly political leaders who refused to participate in the meeting for fear of a poor turnout," Mr. Dashkevich said.
It is now clear that the post-election protest in Minsk will draw a very large number of people, he said.
"Lukashenka counts on the cowardice of his opponents," Mr. Dashkevich said. "He believes that by threatening to cancel their registration as presidential candidates, he can scare them into inaction. However, the courageous political leaders who took part in the event have showed that fear is becoming a thing of the past."
Consequently, the mildest of penalties will probably be applied against the candidates who were present, Mr. Dashkevich said.