Bloomberg News

Belarus Car Owners Flood Into Downtown Minsk to Protest New Tax

December 20, 2013

Belarus drivers streamed into downtown Minsk, their honking column filling the capital’s main thoroughfare as a planned tax sparked the nation’s first public protest since 2011.

Motorists organized on social network websites to slow traffic on the eight-lane Nezavisimosti Avenue to a crawl as hundreds cheered from sidewalks about 200 meters (670 feet) from President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s residence. Riot police later forced pedestrians into a nearby underground passage.

While mass protests are part of the political culture in neighboring Ukraine, demonstrations are rare under Lukashenko’s regime, called a dictatorship by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The strongman, who came to power in 1994, used a police crackdown to suppress rallies over his fourth election victory in 2010. The protests two years ago were also staged by car owners, over a fuel-price increase.

“If a part of our society is facing a problem, we all should support them, so that they would support us in return,” said Tatiana Palkhovskaya, not a car owner herself, who raised her hand in a victory sign to greet drivers.

The country is looking for foreign financing to stabilize its cash-strapped economy, having lost a fifth of its reserves this year. As the government awaits the disbursement of the final $440 million tranche from $3 billion Russia-led bailout loan, the International Monetary Fund said a new lending program isn’t under discussion.

Belarus will face payments of $2.6 billion on its external debt next year, Deputy Prime Minister Petr Prokopovich said today in Minsk. The government wants to raise 1.6 trillion rubles ($168.5 million) next year from a new tax on car owners, Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets told lawmakers Dec. 16.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aliaksandr Kudrytski in Minsk, Belarus at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at

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