Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Organizers of congress of opposition forces set to hold the event in Yanka Kupala Park

By Syarhey Karalevich, BelaPAN

A congress of pro-democracy opposition forces will be held in Minsks Yanka Kupala Park on May 15, organizers announced on Thursday.

The organizing committee decided to hold the Belarusian National Congress in the open air after it was denied the opportunity to rent an indoor venue, said Mikalay Statkevich, a former presidential candidate.

Since authorities have made a political decision to frustrate our plans to hold such a congress, we believe that they have thrown down the glove to us, Mr. Statkevich said. We take up the glove. The congress now assumes a new aspect. This will be not only the start of a process to unite opposition forces but also our contribution to the fight for freedom of peaceful assembly.

Mr. Statkevich invited Western diplomats and politicians to attend the congress. Since many of you have seen positive changes in the governments policies and practices, you should come and see whether this is the case, he said.

The organizing committee called on Belarusians to come to Yanka Kupala Park at noon on May 15 to support the congress participants in their fight for freedom of assembly.

After the organizers attempts to rent a venue for the congress proved futile as the owners of suitable halls were afraid of a possible negative reaction from authorities, the organizers asked the Minsk city government for assistance, but in its written reply received on May 10, the Minsk City Executive Committee said that the organizers should try themselves to rent a venue.

According to Mr. Statkevich, the Minsk City Executive Committee said that the city had some 30 halls that would meet the organizers requirements and, in particular, could accommodate 500 to 600 people. The organizers tried 13 of them but were denied everywhere and gave up.

Government-controlled organizations explained that there should be a permit from the city government or that their halls had been fully booked for the following few months, whereas private owners apologized and said frankly that they did not want problems, Mr. Statkevich said.

The congress was expected to focus on a procedure for selecting a common candidate in each electoral district for this years parliamentary elections.

In a statement issued on December 17, 2015, Mr. Statkevich, Uladzimir Nyaklyayew and Stanislaw Shushkevich announced the start of preparations for the congress and invited other opposition leaders to join them.

Apart from Messrs. Statkevich, Nyaklyayew and Shushkevich, the organizing committee included Andrey Sannikaw, Zmitser Dashkevich and Vyachaslaw Siwchyk, Henadz Fyadynich and Mikhail Pastukhow, a former judge of the Constitutional Court.