Shaun Walker: Heavy-handed tactics betray state scared of a discontented public

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The Independent Online

Ever since he came to power in 1994, Alexander Lukashenko has crushed all threats to his regime. Most recently, in the aftermath of fixed presidential elections last December when tens of thousands of Belarusians gathered to protest against the results, he had them violently dispersed and most of the opposition presidential candidates locked up. Two of them are still in prison.

Protests flared again this summer as the economic situation worsened, and a recent law banning more than three people from gathering in public shows how scared the regime is of discontent. After inflation rocketed and the country appeared on the brink of economic collapse, Russia stepped in with a huge financial package that has bought some time for the neo-Soviet economy.

In the days after the bomb attack, Mr Lukashenko suggested that "forces who want to destabilise Belarus" were behind it. But there are signs that Belarusians are sceptical. Independent polls show that more than half of the population believes there may have been state involvement in the bomb.