Lukashenka threatens to return protest organizers to prison

The opposition thugs who were in prison for previous acts and were released should be returned to prison if they fail to comply with regulations, Alyaksandr Lukashenka suggested Thursday, speaking at a government meeting on the social and economic development of the country.

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The Belarusian leader noted that he had decided to suspend for one year the collection of the so-called parasite tax under his Decree No. 3 because authorities had failed to ensure the proper implementation of the decree, and not because “1,500 or 300 people hung about” in squares, protesting the decree. “We ourselves are to blame for this,” he said.

Mr. Lukashenka ordered Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich to take tough measures against the organizers of street protests against the decree. “Ihar Anatolyevich [Shunevich], a perfect order should be established in the country. You know what I mean,” he said.

“People cannot be banned from going to a square. Please get involved in this work, because this work has been a failure in Minsk and, most importantly, in the regional capitals and other large cities. You should designate a square in cities for people to come and express their opinion. Senior government officials should be present there. But there should be no obstacles to the normal life of working people.”

“There should be a designated place, a sort of Hyde Park, for people to express their opinions, as is the case in the developed countries of Western Europe,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “Let people go there and express their opinion. If they call an official, this means he should be there. But if, God forbid, someone offends the official, the police should record this insult and take the toughest measures.”

Authorities should learn to talk to protesters, but at the same time extremely severe penalties should be used against instigators, not ordinary protesters, those who have found themselves in a difficult life situation and want to draw authorities’ attention to them, Mr. Lukashenka said.

According to him, the police should target “our oppositionists maidanned up in the head” – the number of whom he estimated at 300 to 400 – who he claimed visited Kyiv to meet with Maidan protest organizers and are going to use ordinary protesters against the decree as cannon meat to achieve their political objectives. “They will find 10 or 20 professionals who, as you known better than I do, opened fire in Kyiv [in February 2014],” Mr. Lukashenka said. “There will be a real disaster if blood is shed. That’s why we should work in a preventive way.... There will no be maidan revolution in Belarus.”