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Belarus live-blog: Day six after the contested presidential election Minsk tractor plant workers march on the House of Government and the mayor of Grodno addresses protesters

Mass protests continue in Belarus on Friday, August 14, against the official results of the August 9 presidential election, which claim a landslide victory of incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. Factory workers have joined opposition demonstrations in the streets and also walked off the job at assembly lines. After four nights of brutal crackdowns on protesters, the police suddenly left demonstrations mostly alone on Thursday. What happens today will unfold in the updates below.

Another peaceful day of protests comes to an end

While yesterday’s peaceful demonstrations seemed like an exception, today they became a pleasant rule: police officers, riot police, and military servicemen refrained from using violence against protesters and didn’t carry out mass arrests, as was seen during the first three days after the presidential elections.

That said, it seems as though there were more demonstrators on the streets than ever today. Many cities in Belarus saw large columns of workers from major factories join the protests; due to dissatisfaction with the election results, many are preparing to strike. Employees from the Minsk Tractor Works joined thousands of other protesters, who marched along Independence Avenue and staged a rally near the Government House in central Minsk. Despite demands from the demonstrators, not a single government official came out to address the crowd. Instead, riot police lined the perimeter of the building and pushed protesters away — that said, they refrained from clashing with demonstrators, and even accepted flowers and hugs.

The peaceful rallies on the streets of Belarus are in stark contrast to the treatment that detainees are facing while in custody. People recently released from detention centers and temporary holding facilities are describing horrifying, inhumane conditions inside, including extreme overcrowding, lack of food and water, as well as constant beatings and abuse.

The demonstrators who gathered at Independence Square today promised to come out in protest “every day.” Stay tuned to Meduza to see what happens next. And with that, today’s live blog is signing off.

The demonstration at Independence Square might be done for the night, but there are still about 2,000 people rallied near the Pushkin Metro Station, according to the BBC Russian Service.

An opposition demonstration in the self-proclaimed “smallest town” in Belarus — Dzisna, population 1,500.

Riot police officers are leaving Minsk’s Independence Square, as well. People are wishing them good night, RIA Novosti says.

Protesters forming a chain with a “solidarity ribbon” outside of the Belarusian Embassy in St. Petersburg.

EU foreign ministers have agreed to introduce new sanctions against Belarus.

Another night of solidarity protests outside of the Belarusian Embassy in Moscow.

A group of Russian and international human rights organizations have sent a letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Jeria, and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović. The human rights groups are asking them to secure the release of political consultant Vitaly Shklyarov, who was arrested in Belarus in connection with the case against Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s husband, opposition blogger Sergey Tikhanovsky (Siarhei Tikhanouski).

The people gathered near the Government House in Minsk turned on their phone flashlights, which appears to mark the end of the rally. Protesters stood up and started to disperse, chanting “We clean up after ourselves” and “Every day,” Tut.by reports.

Belsat’s journalist Alyona Dubovik has been released from custody at the isolation center on Akrescina Street in Minsk. She was taken to hospital immediately due to a suspected ovarian rupture. Here’s what she had to say about her time in custody:

“They started beating me right away. One woman was doing the beating. [She was] in uniform. I don’t know what uniform it was, I don’t remember. She was a supervisor. She beat all of the girls. Then, on the thirteenth, when there was a trial, I refused to sign the papers where it said that they picked me up near the ‘Riga’ shopping center. They took me into the hallway and that woman started beating me again — with a knee to the stomach.”

In her interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, Belarusian Election Commissioner Lidia Yermoshina also confirmed that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s bizarre capitulation video released on August 11 was in fact recorded in her office at the Central Election Commission’s building. She says she left Tikhanovskaya alone with “two high-ranking law enforcement officers, let’s say, who wanted to meet with her.”

Belarusian election commissioner says results will stand, unless “violations are found”

Except for Alexander Lukashenko (the declared winner), all candidates in last Sunday’s presidential race have contested the official election results. Election officials have rejected these appeals and certified Lukashenko’s 80-percent landslide victory. In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, Belarusian Central Election Commissioner Lidia Yermoshina explained her office’s actions:

[All appeals] have been rejected. We have no choice. If people think we’ll reconsider and award victory to Tikhanovskaya, they’ve got another thing coming. If violations are found as they believe occurred, in this case, the election could be invalidated. This means a new race would need to be held with new candidates. As I’ve said: We can’t just lose the country.

Police are closing off the major sidewalks into the center of Minsk favored by protesters, though people returning from downtown are being allowed out, reports Tut.by.

Aaaaand it’s gone. Earlier today, Aeroflot subsidiary “Pobeda Airlines” changed its company logo on social media to reflect the red-and-white Belarusian flag championed by protesters. It was up for about an hour, but no longer.

Factory workers from the Minsk Tractor Works have reportedly left Independence Square after learning that the authorities are supposedly planning to incite protesters to violence. The workers plan to join a general strike, starting on Monday.

Former Culture Minister Pavel Latushka, who now serves as the general director of the Janka Kupała Theater, has joined the protest at Independence Square in Minsk and called for the resignations of Interior Minister Yuri Karaev and other senior officials responsible for recent violence against detainees.

Russian anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny has responded to President Lukashenko’s allegations that he is somehow involved in the Belarusian opposition protests: Navalny has donated 10,000 rubles ($135) to the “BY_help” movement’s fundraiser to provide financial assistance to Belarusians who have lost their jobs for protesting against the August 9 presidential election results.

The Wagner mercs can finally go home, eventually

The mercenaries Belarus returned to Russia today will not face criminal prosecution, a source told Interfax. “They’ve returned to their homeland and they’re all going back to their homes,” the source said.

Another source tells Interfax that the Wagner mercenaries won’t go home to their families until finishing a two-week quarantine. There’s still a pandemic on, folks.

The BBC estimates that roughly 5,000 protesters are still assembled outside the House of Government in Minsk. Two snipers are reportedly stationed on a balcony of the Interior Ministry building and buses full of riot police are positioned in courtyards nearby.

The flowers placed by protesters in Interior Ministry troopers’ shields outside the House of Government have been removed. The officer plucking away the flowers is presumably the unit’s commander. The crowd shouts “Disgraceful!” at him.

The Telegram channel Belteanews has published photos of a volunteer camp outside a detention center on Akrescina Street in Minsk. People have at the ready first aid, clothes, phone chargers, food, legal counsel, and other items and services needed by detainees being released.

Interior Ministry troops guarding the House of Government building today accepted some warm embraces from demonstrators.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Interior Ministry officials say prosecutors have opened more than 90 criminal cases against protesters in the past five days. The government says demonstrators have injured 121 police officers.

The mercs are free

Belarus has released all but one of the 33 “Russian mercenaries” arrested in late July on suspicion of plotting mass riots in Minsk. The 33rd detainee has a Belarusian passport and remained behind, says RIA Novosti.

So much for that epic geopolitical showdown between Russia and Belarus.

Things are really heating up outside the KGB headquarters in Minsk.

Russian companies are getting in on the Belarusian opposition activity. Aeroflot subsidiary “Pobeda Airlines” has changed its social-media avatar ever so slightly to reflect the red-and-white Belarusian flag championed by protesters.

Belarusian Health Ministry promises not to fire doctors for protesting

The Health Ministry said in a statement on Friday that no medical workers will lose their jobs for expressing political views outside work hours. Earlier today, the head rector of Belarusian State University made a similar vow.

The scene in Grodno today at Lenin Square. By the way, this is where Grodno is:

The clergy revokes its congratulations to Lukashenko

Metropolitan Paul (Georgiy Ponomaryov), the archpriest of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, has apologized for congratulating Alexander Lukashenko on his recent re-election, saying it was premature.

“The Metropolitan has been informed about the events in Belarus and he’s seen videos of the arrests and he was outraged, horrified, and upset,” said a church spokesperson, adding that the clergy will pray for the demonstrators now incarcerated.

Valery Tsepkalo (Valeryy Tsapkala), a leading Belarusian oppositionist who was denied candidacy in the presidential election, confirms that he plans to return to Minsk sometime soon to join the protests against the Lukashenko regime. He told Ekho Moskvy that he’s currently in Kyiv.

In remarks today to the Belarusian Security Council, President Alexander Lukashenko implied that political protests are “an issue” affecting only the capital.

But mass demonstrations attended by tens of thousands of people have been reported on the streets of Smorgon, Pinsk, Slonim, Bobruis, Rechitsa, Grodno, and other cities around the country. Pictured below: the rally in Grodno.

Lukashenko demands that the protesters be “dealt with

“Tell me, how should a military man act? What am I supposed to do in this situation? You want me to sit down and wait while Minsk is turned upside down? If I do that, we won’t [be able] to stabilize the situation later. So let us put things in order and let’s deal with those who have come here.”

A photo from Lukashenko’s meeting today with the Belarusian Security Council.

Navalny is to blame!

Yet more from Lukashenko, addressing Belarusians: “Don’t get involved in what’s happening now in the streets! Understand that you and your children are being used as cannon fodder! Even today, they’re piling in from Poland, Holland, Ukraine, and from this ‘Open Russia,” from Navalny, and so on and so forth. The [foreign[ aggression against the country is already underway.”

More from Lukashenko:

“Today, we’re seeing absolutely clearly what’s happening. We’re seeing the political actors today. As we’ve said, those responsible for all this are people from abroad. At the forefront are people with criminal pasts — serious criminal pasts. And some of our own people, some kids and others far from it.”

Lukashenko holds meeting with his Security Council about nationwide protests

According to RIA Novosti, the Belarusian president commented, “I won’t say it’s some kind of disaster or that the situation has gotten out of hand, but there are plenty of problems.”

As many as 30,000 people assembled for a demonstration in Grodno’s Lenin Square, according to Radio Svaboda. Protesters chanted “resign!” and “we believe, we can do it, we can win!”

A small group of scholars carrying the Academy of Sciences’ flag is headed toward Independence Square in Minsk, reports Nashi Niva. At this location yesterday, more than a thousand young scholars signed a collective letter calling for an end to the violence against opposition protesters. The Academy’s administration criticized the appeal as a political provocation.

An online platform for locating missing protesters

The news outlet Tut.by has launched an online service to help Belarusians locate people who have gone missing at protests this week. The site is only just getting started. Currently, there’s information for only 18 people, but anyone can add updates for their own friends and family.

Photograph by Nasha Niva.

Mikhail Simakov has been released from a detention facility in Minsk. On August 11, he was featured in news reports on television, where broadcasters said he was suspected of bribing protesters. Police officers allegedly discovered a large sum of money on his person (though his Simakov’s relatives say he’d just sold his car).

According to Simakov’s sister, he was kept in custody on suspicion of disobeying the police and injuring an officer. Simakov himself has refused to comment on his case, calling it “an absurd situation.”

Workers from the Minsk Automobile Plant staged a motor rally in Minsk on Friday, driving trucks through the city with the phrases “Don’t hurt [the protesters]!” and “We are for peace!” scrawled on the sides of their vehicles.

Andrey Dmitriev (Andrey Dmitriyeu), one of the less popular opposition candidates in Sunday’s presidential race, has reportedly arrived at the House of Government and said he plans to appeal the Belarusian Supreme Court regarding the official election results.

The heavy equipment assembled near the House of Government in Minsk is leaving the area, reports Kyky. Protesters are also beginning to disperse, according to Onlinerby, though a couple thousand people are still assembled outside the building’s right wing.

More footage from outside the House of Government in Minsk.

Outside the House of Government now in Minsk. Many protesters are now sitting down on the ground.

Footage of heavy equipment, police vans, and reinforcements en route to Independence Square and the House of the Government building in Minsk, where thousands are now protesting.

It’s apparently a festive atmosphere in Grodno today, says Belsat‘s correspondent on the ground. Activists and workers have assembled for a protest at Lenin Square. According to Radio Svaboda, there are thousands of demonstrators out and about.

Mieczyslaw Goy, the chairman of the city’s executive committee, reportedly promised to free all locals recently arrested at demonstrations. It’s supposed to happen before 6 p.m., local time, but he says the city will hold on to a handful of individuals under the suspicions of the Belarusian Investigative Committee.

“It’s impossible to bear the title of President’s Scholarship Laureate when the president allows such deception and brutal beatings of his own compatriots”

This is from a statement from scholarship winners, laureates, prize winners, and graduates of the “Special Foundation of the President of the Republic of Belarus for the Support of Talented Youth and Gifted Students and Students.” One hundred of these folks have renounced the titles and benefits granted to them through this organization, reports Tut.by.

Police in Minsk continue to move heavy equipment toward the center of the city, eyewitnesses report, but so far they have not confronted protesters.

Mobile Internet service has crashed outside the House of Government. Minsk Tractor Works employees who arrived outside the building have decided to continue their “victory march” toward October Square, back down Independence Avenue, reports Tut.by.

Demonstrators outside the House of Government are demanding to speak to Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko, reports Sputnik Belarus.

Roughly 30 Interior Ministry troops are currently stationed in front of the House of Government building, but Belsat readers claim that police are preparing water cannons, vans, and reinforcements nearby.

The authorities are telling protesters outside the House of Government to maintain a 100-meter (330-foot) distance from the building, says Tut.by. Demonstrators are chanting “We’re everywhere” and “Let’s talk! Let’s talk!”

Despite the hugging and kissing, Interior Ministry troops have started pushing demonstrators back from the House of Government, says RIA Novosti‘s correspondent on the ground.

Roughly 150 people injured at demonstrations in Belarus this week are still hospitalized, says the BBC, citing health officials.

The police started backing off demonstrators on of Thursday, but new injuries have occurred at prisons and detention centers.

Some of the protesters didn’t limit themselves to hugs. He’s one woman from the demonstration laying a big ole kiss on one of the Interior Ministry troops outside the House of Government.

State investigators release a statement about the criminal cases against rioters in the Brest region

  • The charges relate to riots, disorderly conduct, and the use of violence against police officers
  • There are currently 99 suspects
  • A man in Baranovichi has been arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a police officer (he missed)

Aerial footage of the demonstration headed to the House of Government. (Note the long white sheet — it’s the same column of designers we wrote about below.)

Riot police are assembled outside the Belarusian House of Government. Women from the approaching crowd of demonstrators rushed ahead and began hugging them.

Belarusian state investigators have opened a felony inquiry into protests in the Brest region on the night of August 11, reports RIA Novosti.

Interior Ministry troops have blocked the road leading to the Belarusian Central Election Commission, reports Sputnik Belarus.

There’s not a single police officer in Independence Square, where demonstrators have assembled in Minsk, reports Belsat.

This.

The news outlet Tut.by has published a photo gallery showing hospitalized demonstrators recovering from injuries inflicted by the Belarusian police. The images are frightening and feature captions like “This is Maria — a concussion grenade exploded at her feet” and “This is Alexander — his legs and backside are purple from beatings after they were waiting for him in the courtyard outside his home.”

Caution: these are disturbing images.

Maria Kolesnikova (Maryia Kalesnikava), the campaign manager for unregistered opposition candidate Victor Babariko (Viktar Babaryka), has joined protesters in downtown Minsk, reports Radio Svaboda.

At a rally in Salihorsk, based on video streamed from on the ground, demonstrators unanimously raised their hands when asked who voted for Tikhanovskaya, whereas no one said they voted for Lukashenko. Protesters later started calling for the arrest of the president and Central Election Commissioner Lidia Yermoshina.

Belarusian State University rejects violence, too

The head rector of Belarusian State University has recorded a video address where he says the university’s administration rejects violence in any form. He also promises not to fire or expel anyone for participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Demonstrators in the city of Maladzyechna are calling out the mayor, reports NEXT Live. Admittedly, the protesters in the video are shouting “Fascists! Fascists!” 🤔

Journalists in Minsk have spotted water cannons in police arsenals, once again, according to the Telegram channel Kyky.

Oh, “designers” are protesting, too

A column of demonstrators carrying a long (very long) white sheet are marching from Gorky Park in Minsk. Based on this video, the person in front is carrying a sign that says “Designers.” They are chanting “Long live Belarus!”

Stepan Putilo (Stsiapan Putsila), the author of the mega-popular Telegram channel NEXTA Live, says the Belarusian authorities have opened a criminal case against him for the felony of organizing mass riots. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

What’s NEXTA Live? Belarusian blogger and former Belsat television opposition commentator Stepan Putilo (Stsiapan Putsila) has managed the Telegram channel Nexta Live from Poland since 2015. In the week before Belarus’s 2020 presidential election, his channel gained 100,000 new subscribers. His audience on Telegram more than doubled throughout the entire presidential race. At the time of this writing, Nexta has more than 1.9 million followers, making it the single most popular Telegram channel in Belarus. Putilo actively supports the opposition and regularly urges his readers in Belarus to join the protests.

Minsk Tractor Works workers carried signs that referred directly to President Lukashenko’s insults against the country’s opposition protesters, whom he’s called shep and people with criminal records. (The signs below read: “NOT sheep, NOT cattle, NOT small” and so on.

As for strikes, workers at the Minsk Tractor Works walked off the job after a meeting with management. The laborers also former a strike committee and marched down the capital’s streets toward the House of Government, according to the BBC.

Natalia Fedosenko / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Earlier today, Lukashenko’s main opposition rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya), released a new video calling on mayors across Belarus to lead protests demanding a recount of the votes in Sunday’s presidential election.

Several mayors have already met with demonstrators, though they haven’t joined their ranks. On Friday, the mayor of Grodno spoke with protesters, who booed him when he referred to unpermitted rallies in the city.

As Friday’s protests kick off, recall Meduza‘s final update from Thursday evening:

Today was a peaceful one

After four nights of mass arrests, beatings, stun grenades, and rubber bullets, Thursdayʼs opposition demonstrations were remarkably peaceful. Protesters marched throughout the day and evening, but riot police kept their distance for a change.

Despite rhetoric from demonstrators and state officials alike “against violence,” thousands of people remain locked up in jails and prisons. People who have been released from these facilities tell horror stories of abuse and even torture. Znak.com correspondent Nikita Telizhenko shared his own harrowing tale, which Meduza summarized in English. Read this excerpt and send the story to your friends:

The officers continued to beat people, this one for a tattoo, that one for long hair. “You faggot, in prison now theyʼll take turns with your ass,” the guards shouted. Anyone who asked to shift positions was clobbered in the head, says Telizhenko, who only learned at this point that he was in the custody of the Belarusian special forces, not the riot police, as he thought initially.

If the officers didnʼt like your name or your tattoos or even your face, permission to stretch or adjust positions was denied. “Later, they said any attempt to change positions would be treated as an attempt to escape, which meant being shot on the spot,” Telizhenko says.