Belarus minister says police could use guns during protests

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (Nikolai Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

KYIV – The interior minister of Belarus warned that authorities wouldn't hesitate to approve the use of live ammunition on protesters if it's necessary to quash more than 2 1/2 months of demonstrations against the reelection of the country's authoritarian president.

In a YouTube interview released Wednesday, Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said he thinks that police have been too tolerant of protesters and that they will take a tougher line. He noted that many officers have been injured during the post-election unrest.

“A war is going on. There has been an open and blatant pressure fueled by impunity and lack of fear,” Karayev said.

He added that police would continue to rely mostly on non-lethal weapons but would use firearms if they faced a violent response. from protesters.

“A police officer was nearly killed, he was being strangled but he only fired warning shots in the air,” the minister said, adding that he was working to change that attitude and was telling police that their lives depend “on how quickly you pull your gun.”

In another statement intended to turn the heat on protesters, Belarus' Prosecutor General, Andrei Shved, said his office has opened 657 criminal inquiries into violence against police. He added that some of them involve charges of terrorism.

Since the country's Aug. 9 presidential election, Belarus has been rocked by the largest and most sustained protests in President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. Official election results gave him a landslide victory to a sixth term. The demonstrators have rejected the official results as a sham and demanded Lukashenko's resignation.

Police detained thousands and brutally beat hundreds of peaceful protesters during the first few days of protests, triggering international outrage and prompting the U.S. and the European Union to introduce sanctions against Belarusian officials accused of vote fraud and the clampdown on demonstrations.