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Belarus deports several foreign journalists covering protests

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Thousands of protesters are demanding President Lukashenko resigns.
Thousands of protesters are demanding President Lukashenko resigns.   -   Copyright  Sergei Grits/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.
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Belarus authorities have deported some foreign journalists and withdrawn the accreditations of several others reporting on the unrest, news organisations said on Saturday.

The Associated Press news agency said two of its journalists who were covering the recent protests in Belarus were deported to Russia on Saturday.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists said accreditation was also taken away from 17 Belarusians working for several other media.

Germany’s ARD television said two of its Moscow-based journalists also were deported to Russia, a Belarusian producer faces trial on Monday and their accreditation to work in Belarus was revoked.

The BBC said two of its journalists working for the BBC Russian service in Minsk also had their accreditation revoked and U.S.-funded radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said five of its journalists lost accreditation

Protests have swelled in the country since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, extended his rule in a disputed election on August 9 in which he claimed 80 percent of the vote.

The opposition has rejected the results as rigged and have called for a mass protest on Sunday.

Government spokesman Anatoly Glaz said the decision to revoke the media accreditations was taken on the recommendation of the country's counter-terrorism unit.

He did not specify how many journalists were affected by the measure, but foreign media including the BBC and Radio Liberty reported the withdrawal of accreditation of several of their journalists.

"The Belarusian Foreign Ministry called me and informed me that my accreditation and that of one of my colleagues as BBC correspondents had been cancelled. They demanded that I return my card," journalist Tatyana Melnichuk told AFP.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania after she claimed victory in the election, said the revoking of media accreditations was worrying.

"If true, it is another sign that this regime is morally bankrupt and the only way it will attempt to cling onto power is by fear and intimidation," she said in a statement.

Sergei Grits/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. File photo.Sergei Grits/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

"This tactic will not work. Belarusian people are not afraid any more. We will win. The darkest hour is always before the dawn."

The US embassy in Minsk also condemned the move.

"We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a democratic, prosperous future and support their call for the government of Belarus to carry out democratic reforms and respect human rights," it said.

Lukashenko, often dubbed as "Europe's last dictator" has refused to stand down and denounced a Western plot to overthrow him.

The European Union has urged the leader to set up a dialogue with the opposition and is preparing sanctions against high-ranking Belarusian officials.

The protests, which have sparked a police crackdown, have seen nearly 7,000 demonstrators arrested, at least three people killed and hundreds wounded.