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.
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.
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.