Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has awarded medals to over 300 members of state security forces, praising them for cracking down on massive anti-government protests over the past ten days.
The international community has, in stark contrast, condemned the police clampdown as violent and excessive.
Lukashenko awarded medals to riot police officers, police van drivers, prison guards, and other security personnel for “exemplary performance of official duties,” according to a copy of the ceremony’s official order published online Tuesday. The order is dated August 13 and is signed by Lukashenko, according to the Moscow Times, though Reuters reports that Lukashenko handed out the medals to law enforcement on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, videos were published on the internet appearing to show some Belarus police officers “throwing their uniforms into dustbins,” according to the report.
The Belarus Interior Ministry acknowledged that some members of state security forces had recently quit in a statement on Tuesday. “We will not judge the small proportion of police officers who have today left the service out of personal convictions,” the statement read. Continuing, the ministry said that the public would be left unprotected if “the entire police force today takes off its badges” and asked all remaining officers to stay at their post.
Lukashenko has ruled over Belarus for the past 26 years as the country’s first and only president. Following his official victory in Belarus’s presidential election on August 9, dissidents said the state election committee falsified the election results to hand Lukashenko a sixth consecutive term and took to the streets in protests nationwide that have continued unabated since. The demonstrations have received mounting support by the European Union (E.U.), which says it is preparing new sanctions to impose on Belarus officials for the government’s crackdown on the unrest, which has seen 7,000 people detained, hundreds injured, and two people killed.
“E.U. will now initiate a process of sanctions against those responsible for the violence, arrests, and fraud in connection with the election,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter on August 14.