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Lukashenko meets with jailed opposition figureheads at pre-trial detention center

Belarusian President met with the former nominee for a presidential candidate Viktor Babariko and other jailed opposition representatives to discuss the constitution reform
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Mikhail Metzel/TASS
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

reform, BelTA news agency said citing the Telegram channel Pool of the First with links to the presidential press service.

"A constitution cannot be written in the street," Lukashenko said noting that the country lives under the motto "dialogue now!"

"We should not get fixated on the constitution. I am open-minded and try to convince not only your supporters, but entire society that a broader look should be taken at the problem," Lukashenko said.

It was reported that the president "has been speaking for four hours and a half with the above mentioned representatives in the pre-trial detention center - the members of the so-called Coordination Council and the joint headquarters."

"The president’s goal is to listen to everybody’s opinion. However, the participants decided together to keep the details of their conversation in secret," the agency said.

The photo uploaded on the Telegram channel shows eleven people at the meeting with the president. Among them were former head of Belgazprombank Victor Babariko and his son Eduard Babariko, a member of the presidium of the Coordination Council, lawyer Lilia Vlasova and coordinator of the opposition headquarters, businessman Yuri Voskresensky, political spin doctor Vitaly Shklyarov, Pandadoc Director Dmitry Rabtsevich, the lawyer, a member of the presidium of the Coordination Council Ilya Salei, Vondel/Hepta head and co-founder of The Village of Belarus Alexander Vasilevich, along with Kirill Badei, who before his arrest had been Belgazprombank’s acting Management Board Chairman.

Shklyarov’s lawyer Anton Gashinsky told the Echo of Moscow radio station that nobody of the jailed opposition activists had been aware of the meeting with Lukashenko.

"Besides Vitaly Shklyarov, at the meeting were present those who are kept in absolutely different locations. They had not been warned in advance, and in the morning they were taken to one place, and they did not know until the last moment who will come for the meeting. It was a surprise," he said.

The lawyer believes that Lukashenko’s visit could mean the beginning of dialogue with the opposition and it inspires hope.


Presidential election

Nationwide demonstrations have engulfed Belarus following the August 9 presidential election. According to the Central Election Commission’s official results, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won by a landslide, garnering 80.10% of the vote. His closest rival in the race, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, came in second, with 10.12% of the ballot. However, she refused to recognize the election’s outcome, and left Belarus for Lithuania. After the results of the exit polls were announced late on August 9, mass protests erupted in downtown Minsk and other Belarusian cities. During the early post-election period, the rallies snowballed into fierce clashes between the protesters and police. The current unrest is being cheered on by the opposition’s Coordination Council, which has been beating the drum for more protests. In response, the Belarusian authorities have castigated the ongoing turmoil and demanded that these unauthorized demonstrations be stopped.

The Coordination Council’s creation was initiated by Tikhanovskaya. The opposition’s headquarters said the Coordination Council’s task would be to ensure the transfer of power. The Council later elected a seven-member presidium. On August 19, the Prosecutor-General’s Office opened a criminal case over the Council’s creation for its public calls for the seizure of state power and certain actions taken in the mass media and the Internet harmful to national security. Six out of the seven members of the Coordination Council’s presidium have either been arrested or fled abroad.

Viktor Babariko, who headed Belgazprombank for 20 years, sought to participate in the 2020 presidential election in Belarus. On June 11, the Belarusian State Control Committee announced that searches had been conducted at the bank and a criminal case had been opened over large-scale tax evasion and the legalization of illegally-obtained large amounts of money. Babariko claimed that the situation was politically motivated. Babariko was later detained on suspicion of orchestrating illegal banking activities. Babariko’s son Eduard, who headed his father’s campaign team, was also taken to the pre-trial detention center. Some other Belarusian opinion figures, who are recognized as political prisoners by human rights activists, are also kept there.

The Belarusian opposition calls for the return to the 1994 constitution, in particular, to limit the number of presidential terms, but insist on holding a new election first.