Belarusian Police Disperse Drivers' Protest Against Gas Limits

June 13, 2011

HRODNA, Belarus  -- Belarusian security forces used force on June 12 to disperse a protest by car owners against new gasoline restrictions on the Belarusian-Polish border, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Dozens of protesters demanded the cancelation of an edict adopted by the Belarusian government on June 11, which says that cars leaving Belarusian territory for a country other than Russia more than once in five days can carry no more than 5 liters of gasoline in their tanks.

The demonstrators say 5 liters is not enough to reach the closest gasoline station on Polish territory.

One protester told RFE/RL that up to 100 drivers gathered at the Bruzhi border checkpoint near the western city of Hrodna on June 12 and demanded that Mayor Syamyon Shapira talk to them. But the talks proved inconclusive and the protest continued.

Special police forces then tried to disperse the drivers, but failed. Additional police arrived at about 8 p.m. and started beating drivers with truncheons.

A protester told RFE/RL that police arrested several drivers and used tear gas on others who surrounded a police car to demand their release.

A steep fall in the value of the country's currency, the Belarusian ruble, has led people to buy large amounts of consumer goods, cars, durable foods, and gas, causing prices to skyrocket and stocks to be depleted.

That led the government to impose restrictions on the purchase of some goods and freeze the prices of others.

The protest in Hrodna came after a demonstration last week by car owners in the capital, Minsk, against soaring gasoline prices that prompted the government to impose a price limit which caused shortages.