Updated at 14:52,24-02-2021

As Belarus Protests Enter Sixth Month, Lukashenka Repeats Vague Promise Of Change

Rferl

As Belarus Protests Enter Sixth Month, Lukashenka Repeats Vague Promise Of Change
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya offered New Year's greetings to Belarusians on January 1.
MINSK -- Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has rejected Alyaksandr Lukashenka's renewed pledge to draft a new constitution by the end of this year and put it to a referendum.

"Only one new constitution can be adopted in Belarus -- the people's constitution. People will write and discuss it. And the man who fell into terror against the Belarusians has nothing to do with the main law of the country," Tsikhanouskaya said.

Lukashenka will continue to try to "promote his manipulative project to once again deceive us and gain time for himself," but Belarusians no longer believe him, she said on Telegram.

The opposition has already said it does not recognize Lukashenka as president and will not accept any of his legislative attempts to hold on to office, she said. She also stressed that new elections and a referendum on a new constitution should take place by the end of 2021 without Lukashenka.

Tsikhanouskaya's office will soon present a draft constitution that will be open for discussion, she added.

She made the comments after Lukashenka repeated a pledge to draft a new constitution by the end of this year and put it to a referendum, ideas which have previously been dismissed by the opposition as stalling tactics.

The latest pledge -- via Russian television -- comes with scattered protests continuing across the country on January 10 despite the threat of violent suppression by police and security forces.

Security officers were out in force in Minsk and other cities on January 10 to intimidate possible participants in weekly Sunday demonstrations of opposition, with officers quickly stepping in to arrest people in some cases.

Lukashenka's declaration of victory for a sixth presidential term after a heavily fettered election on August 9 set off months of unprecedented opposition that has been ruthlessly countered with mass arrests, beatings, and strictures on media and public gatherings.

In a recorded interview with Russian state television ahead of the Orthodox New Year that begins on January 14, Lukashenka again dangled talk of changes but declined to specify what they might be.

"I think that by the end of next year, the draft of a new constitution will be ready," TASS quoted him as saying. "And then in a referendum, people will decide whether to have a new constitution or not."

Lukashenka has repeatedly used dubious referendums and noncompetitive elections to consolidate the state and keep himself in power since he became post-Soviet Belarus's first president in 1994.

But the pot boiled over after the August election, which took place with would-be opposition candidates rejected or jailed and dissidents rounded up beforehand.

Tsikhanouskaya, the wife of one of those jailed aspirants, fled into exile over fears of arrest and claims she won the vote.

She and other opposition figures -- many of them forced to flee or expelled from the country -- have rejected Lukashenka's vague promises of future constitutional changes as a tactic to defuse the protests that have attracted hundreds of thousands of Belarusians to demand his exit and new elections.

They say it is a matter of time until he is forced to leave.

Protest actions -- kept small and scattershot to avoid tipping off police beforehand -- were reported on January 10 in Minsk and Vitebsk. Arrests soon followed.

Lukashenka has rejected dialogue, and has leaned heavily on support from Moscow to withstand the international condemnation.

More than 30,000 Belarusians have been taken into police custody in the 155 days of protest since the vote.

Western governments and pro-democracy groups have also demanded that Lukashenka clear a path to new elections and stop the roundups and brutal suppression of dissent.

Amid the Orthodox holidays, the Vatican this month said Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Minsk, who was briefly prevented from reentering Belarus after he criticized the government's harsh crackdown on the protests.

It was unclear whether Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz's resignation had been expected.