The Leader of Europe's 'Last Dictatorship' Is Facing an Unprecedented Challenge. Here's What It Could Mean for Belarus

Europe’s longest serving leader Alexander Lukashenko has long worked hard to seem invincible. He has dominated past elections that the U.S. has deemed neither free nor fair and brokered no dissent and suppressed protests. Now, he is facing an unprecedented challenge as he runs for a sixth term as president of Belarus in elections on August 9. A former teacher and political novice, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has emerged as his main rival, pledging to topple Lukashenko’s regime and restore democracy.
Tens of thousands have rallied across Belarus in some of the country’s biggest opposition protests in a decade, amid mounting frustration over the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, combined with grievances about the economy. Referring to Lukashenko, protestors chanted ‘stop the cockroach’ and held placards reading ‘change!’.
“For the first time in his 26-year rule, Lukashenko knows the majority don’t support him,” says Aleksandr Feduta, a former aide to the incumbent, who was i…

Anti-government Protests Spread In Iran in the Wake of Ukraine Plane Crash Coverup

Pressure on the Iranian government increases as angry anti-government protests with rises in the country. 

Protestors make headlines joining in the protest for the second day calling justice for the mistake military shooting down of a Ukranian passenger jet killing around 176 passengers.

Thousands of fearless protestors took to streets without fearing heavy police presence demanding the resignation of the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani while criticizing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei by chanting “death to the dictator” which is an offense punishable by incarceration followed by execution.

Witnesses told New York Times’ Farnaz Fassihi that authorities tried to block Azadi Square as massive crowds gathered. 

The security forces teargassed and special forces and militia members attacked protestors by firing rubber bullets to curb the violence breakout.

The mob fury was further fueled with on Sunday with Iran’s moderate daily newspaper Etemad asking those who are responsible for the shooting down of a plane crash killing 176 people should apologize and resign. 

This has overshadowed the earlier government support after the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

On the other hand, many believed the anti-US sentiments spread across the death of Soleimani while others believed that America is a fake enemy the real enemy is right here in Iran. 

Ukraine Plane Shot Down Because of Human Error, Iran Says
Iranian regime fears that this widespread protests will bring back the month’s back fierce protests that were held before Soleimani’s death.

In total government’s attempts to suppress further protests are believed to have been brutal taking the lives of around 300-1500 people. But with internet shutdown, there is no way of knowing whether or not the death toll has increased.

On Sunday many gathered at universities campuses to protest while calls for bigger protests increased. 

In addition to that black-suited Revolutionary Guard members patrolled the capital on motorbikes to curb and protest efforts. 

US President Trump lauded the protests as well as calling against human rights violations. This has also led many to criticize Trump’s hypocritical statements.

In addition to that, Hossein Salami Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ leader heavily apologized for his forces that shot down a Ukraine International flight 752 saying that he has never been ashamed so much in his life. 

He further said that he should have been dead along with others in the plane rather than witnessing this tragic event.

Source: headlinesoftoday.com, Shayaree Chanda, January 13, 2020

Thousands of Iranian protesters hit streets condemning leaders over downed plane

Disastrous mistake': Iran admits it shot down Ukrainian plane
(CNN) -- Apologies from Iranian leaders over the downing of an airliner last week have done little to quell mass anti-government protests spreading across the country.

Thousands of demonstrators hit the streets this weekend condemning Iranian authorities for shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane and killing all 176 people on board.

The airliner disaster came hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi military bases housing US troops. That was retaliation for a drone strike at Baghdad airport that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

Amid rising tensions in the region, eight Katyusha rockets hit Iraq's Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, on Sunday, wounding four Iraqi air force officers, the Iraqi military said in a statement. No American or coalition forces were at the base when the rockets struck, a US military official told CNN.

In Iran, demonstrators are calling for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and for those responsible for downing the plane to be prosecuted.

"Khamenei have shame. Leave the country," chanted protesters in the capital, Tehran, in footage posted on social media.

Khamenei has been in office for three decades, and there is no limit to his term.

Protests have now spread to other cities, including Shiraz, Esfahan, Hamedan and Orumiyeh, Reuters reported.

US President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the demonstrators, saying his administration will "continue to stand by you." Likewise, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced his support for the protesters and called on European powers to increase pressure on the Iranian regime.

Iran previously denied US claims that the country had struck down the plane before admitting the mistake Saturday.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said his country "deeply regrets this disastrous mistake" and his "thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families."

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed the disaster on "human error" and "US adventurism."

UK ambassador in Iran arrested

The protests came as Iran faces fresh criticism abroad for the temporary arrest Saturday of British Ambassador Rob Macaire. On Sunday, Macaire was summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry.

Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani
According to the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Macaire was arrested while in the middle of a crowd of protesters in front of Tehran's Amir Kabir University.

He was accused of instigating and directing radical and destructive demonstrations, and later released.

Macaire said on Twitter that he wasn't taking part in any demonstrations -- and was instead paying respect to victims of the downed Ukrainian plane.

The ambassador added that he left the area after five minutes "when some started chanting."

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called Macaire's arrest a "flagrant violation of international law" -- a sentiment echoed by the German and French foreign ministries.

Iranian officials said Macaire was released as soon as his identity was confirmed.

"When police informed me a man's arrested who claims to be UK Amb, I said IMPOSSIBLE! only after my phone conversation with him I identified, out of big surprise, that it's him. 15 min later he was free," tweeted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

International leaders seek answers

Iranian president Hassan RouhaniThe downed plane's victims included 57 Canadians, and the country's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a press conference Saturday that, "what Iran has admitted to is very serious."

"Canada will not rest until we get the accountability, justice and closure that the families deserve."

Rouhani told Trudeau he was committed "to collaborate, to give closure to the victims, de-escalate tensions in the region and continue this dialogue," the Canadian PM said.

Meanwhile the Ukrainian general prosecutor's office said in a statement it was now investigating the incident as a possible case of "willful killing and aircraft destruction."

The downing of the plane was being handled as a case of "violation of traffic safety rules" and "operation of air transport resulting in death." But prosecutors said Iran's admission changed the scope to "liability for the willful killing of two or more people and the destruction of the aircraft," the statement said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that Iran's admission was a "step in the right direction."

Iranian authorities are in possession of the two flight data recorders, also known as black boxes, which Ukrainian investigators got access to Friday.

They have yet to start examining the information, but have said it included communications between the pilot and Tehran flight control.

Source: CNN, Sheena McKenzie, Madeline Holcombe and Artemis Moshtaghian, December 13, 2020

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