Belarusian police cordoned off a central square in Minsk on Wednesday as the country’s opposition called for a mass protest against government measures to prop up a floundering economy.
Opposition groups spread calls on the Internet on Wednesday for anyone dissatisfied with the government measures to protest on main city squares across the country.
Large numbers of police have been deployed and a megaphone has been installed on Minsk’s Oktyabrskaya Square to urge would-be protesters to go home or face arrest.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday he would clamp down hard on anyone caught protesting against economic measures.
The threat followed the suppression of small protests on Sunday and Monday on the Belarusian- Polish border against a ban on the export of fuel, various foodstuffs and white goods. Several protesters were arrested and fined.
International demand for Belarusian products began falling in 2009. Belarus’ economy had survived for many years thanks to Russia’s low tariffs for oil supplies to Belarusian refineries, but Russia introduced a 100 percent tariff on most oil and oil product exports in 2010.
The Belarusian ruble has come under severe pressure in the first five months of the year from a large trade deficit, generous wage increases and loans granted by the government ahead of the December 2010 presidential elections, which spurred strong demand for foreign currency.
In spring, the country’s authorities devaluated the national currency by 36 percent, froze prices on some staple foods and introduced fuel rationing to keep the lid on the deepening crisis.
MINSK, June 15 (RIA Novosti)