'Velvet Revolution' Crisis Between Ukraine and Belarus

ISTAMBUL, Turkey -- Hundreds of Belarusian opposition activists and youth-movement activists from Russia and Ukraine held a demonstration in downtown Minsk, Belarus on 26 April, the 19th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, in order to threaten Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. His government has been described as "the last true dictatorship in Europe". Riot police dispersed the demonstration and arrested some young protestors and two journalists.

The incident in Minsk, which caused an international crisis, brought Ukraine and Belarus "in the revolution list" face to face. While Ukraine wants Belarus to release those arrested immediately, the Russian opposition harshly criticized the Kremlin. Moscow has announced that it is closely watching the developments. Liberal circles describe the arrest of youth activists as "a warning to the Belarusian opposition, which wants a velvet revolution". Belarusian velvet revolutionists, who are organized abroad due to internal pressures, are also supported by Ukrainian youth.

Five Ukrainian, 14 Russian and 13 Belarusian youth activists, who were arrested on April 28, were sentenced to jail for 8 and 15 days. Starting a "hunger strike" at the prison, five Ukrainian demonstrators said that the police subjected them to violence. Belarusian youth activists, who were arrested, also started a strike.. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry requested a medical check-up in order to determine whether or not the young demonstrators had been subjected to violence or torture.

Belarusian officials accuse the youth activists, who organized a demonstration without permission, of making "provocations". Russian journalist Irina Halipova, who has been to Minsk, implied that Moscow might have backed the incident. She claimed that the youth group participating in the demonstrations in Belarus had returned to Moscow the same day and planned to gather in front of a court, where a case against an arrested Kremlin opponent businessman Mihail Hodorkovski; is taking place. However, this was prevented in "far abroad". Among the youth activists, who went to Belarus, there are members of the youth-movement activists of the Russian liberal party SPS and a youth organization called "Walking without Putin".

While it is wondered where the next Western-backed velvet revolution in the former Soviet republics will be, the US Secretary of State Rice had described Belarusian President Lukashenka's government as "the last true dictatorship in Europe". Lukashenka, who has been in office since 1994, rules with "an iron hand" in his country in order to prevent a "velvet revolution". Through a referendum, he has guaranteed his stay in office until 2012.

Source: Zaman Online