Belarus fined six people Wednesday for taking part in a protest against rising gasoline prices that paralyzed traffic in the country’s capital.
Thousands of motorists took part in Tuesday’s action, and some parked in the middle of Minsk’s main avenue to protest high gas prices that have nearly doubled since March to 5,800 Belarusian rubles ($1.10) per liter.
Belarus is undergoing its worst financial crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. A sharp devaluation of the nation’s currency has triggered high inflation and prompted Belarusians to line up for days at currency exchanges to try to protect their savings.
On Wednesday, six motorists at the heart of the protest on the main avenue were sentenced to fines ranging from the equivalent of $105 to $140 by a court in Minsk.
President Alexander “Lukashenko has turned us into beggars!” Pavel Gruzdilovich, who was fined $105, told a Minsk court. “We are not going to keep silent about it.”
An average salary in Belarus is about 1.5 million rubles, which was $500 in May but is now worth $300.
The Belarusian ruble has lost nearly half of its value against the dollar since the start of the year after a government-fueled rise in wages prompted the currency’s gradual depreciation. Consumer prices have increased by 20 percent in the past five months.
Reacting to the protests, Lukashenko ordered the lowering of prices at the pump to 4,500 Belarusian rubles. Most of the country’s gasoline comes from a state-owned company.
On Saturday, Belarus secured a $3 billion loan from a Russia-led group, while analysts said that the country needs at least $9 billion in aid to get the economy back on track. Belarus also said earlier this month that it was asking the International Monetary Fund for a loan of up to $8 billion.
Experts say the country’s authoritarian president is unable to stop the spiraling financial crisis, which undermines his credibility.
“The protests will only grow,” independent analyst Alexander Klaskovsky told The Associated Press. “Lukashenko has lost people’s confidence and there are no reasons for upbeat forecasts.”