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Belarus Lukashenko orders police to quell protests as EU leaders hold emergency summit

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered police on Wednesday to put down protests in the ca..

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered police on Wednesday to put down protests in the capital Minsk, while European Union leaders held an emergency summit expected to endorse sanctions on Belarusian officials.

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Lukashenko's order came even as EU leaders were holding an emergency summit over the political crisis in Belarus, long Russia's most loyal neighbour, which has heavily militarised borders with the bloc.

EU leaders were expected to endorse sanctions on Belarusian officials they blame for election fraud following a disputed August 9 election that the opposition said it won.

However, they were also expected to steer clear of more dramatic steps that might provoke intervention from Moscow.

"There should no longer be any disorder in Minsk of any kind," Lukashenko said in remarks reported by Belarus official Belta news agency. "People are tired. People demand peace and quiet."

Violence has to stop

He ordered the border to be tightened to prevent an influx of "fighters and arms". Workers at state media who have quit in protest against the government's policies would not be rehired, he said.

Western officials are trying to head off an escalation along the lines of the crisis in Ukraine six years ago, when a violent crackdown by a pro-Russian leader led to his downfall in a popular uprising, followed by a Russian military intervention and Europe's deadliest ongoing conflict.

"Violence has to stop and a peaceful and inclusive dialogue has to be launched. The leadership of #Belarus must reflect the will of the people," Charles Michel, the EU summit chairman, wrote in a tweet announcing the start of a video meeting, adding that he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke with the Russian leader, whose country has close economic and military ties with its neighbour.

Merkel told Putin that authorities in Minsk must "enter into a national dialogue with the opposition and society to overcome the crisis", while Macron urged the Russian leader to foster "calm and dialogue".

In Kremlin readouts of the two calls, Putin emphasised that interfering in Belarus and putting pressure on its authorities would be "unacceptable", as the European Union moves to impose sanctions over the vote and the brutal police crackdown on protesters that followed.

The flurry of calls came ahead of an emergency video summit of European Union leaders to discuss Belarus on Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of the summit, the EU's commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, said sanctions against Belarusian authorities would be reinforced.

"It is clear that (the outcome of the Belarus presidential election) is not in line with the wish of the people, there has been unacceptable violence, and the rule of law is not respected. Sanctions have already been taken and will no doubt be reinforced this afternoon," Breton told Europe 1 radio.

'Rotting system'

Belarusian state news agency Belta said Putin and Lukashenko had also spoken by phone to discuss the Russian president's calls with European leaders.

Moscow has said it is ready to step in if necessary in Belarus through the CSTO military alliance between six ex-Soviet states.

But it is unclear how much support Putin is willing to give to Lukashenko, who in recent years has often played off Moscow against the West.

Lithuanian lawmakers on Tuesday urged Western governments not to recognise Lukashenko as president and both the United States and Britain this week voiced concerns over the elections and the crackdown.

Lukashenko has defied calls to hold a new election and on Tuesday handed out awards to 300 members of the security services, who have been accused of abusing arrested protesters.

During a meeting of his security council, Lukashenko accused the oppostion of attempting to "seize power" and sever Minsk's economic and military ties with Russia.

Earlier on Tuesday, several hundred people gathered outside the walls of a detention centre to mark the 42nd birthday of Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular blogger who was imprisoned alongside other Lukashenko rivals ahead of the election.

Tikhanovsky's wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was allowed to run in his place but fled to neighbouring Lithuania after claiming that Lukashenko rigged the election to secure his official 80 percent of the vote.

In a video message, TikhanovskaRead More – Source

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".

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Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24
This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE
TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24

This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.

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Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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Our guests

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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