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Live-blog: Unrest in Belarus Factory workers boo Lukashenko, nationwide strike declared, protests outside state TV station in Minsk

Main events:

  • For the second day in a row, Alexander Lukashenko is trying to demonstrate that he hasn’t lost the nation’s support. On Sunday, August 16, he spoke to a crowd of roughly 14,000 supporters in Minsk outside the House of Government. Hours later, as many as 200,000 protesters assembled in the same space.
  • Today, Lukashenko visited the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT). Journalists and people on the ground reported that only supporters were admitted to the event, but members of the crowd nevertheless shouted “Resign!” at Lukashenko, who responded angrily that Belarus will have a new presidential election only over his dead body.
  • Meanwhile, laborers at nearby factories also went on strike and marched to the Minsk Automobile Plant, joining what is now a nationwide work stoppage.
  • All day, protesters have been assembled outside the Belarusian All-National Television network’s headquarters, demanding an end to government censorship. Maria Kolesnikova (Maryia Kalesnikava), the only opposition leader still free and in Belarus, gave a speech outside the building (after another speech near the MZKT factory).
  • Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya), whom the opposition says won the August 9 presidential election, declared in a new YouTube video that she is ready to act as national leader.

That’s all folks (for tonight)

  • A large group of protesters are still gathered at the park near the Okrestina Street detention center. Volunteers are keeping them away from the building itself, fearing provocations and a further deterioration of conditions inside the holding facility.
  • People took to the streets in protest in cities across again Belarus today. In several cities, protesters demanded to speak with government representatives and in some places discussions actually took place. More often than not, protesters simply stood outside government buildings and shouted “Leave!” at their local officials.
  • During an address at the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT), workers shouted “Leave!” at President Alexander Lukashenko himself. Meduza spoke to some of these workers afterwards: click here to see what they had to say.
  • Former Belarusian Culture Minister Pavel Latushko (Paval Latushka) was fired from his job as general director of the Janka Kupała National Theater in Minsk. Latushko participated in last week’s protests and called on the Interior Minister to resign. In response to Latushko’s dismissal, all of the theater’s employees tendered their resignations. Protesters gathered outside of the theater to support them and chanted “Bravo!”

Lukashenko’s speech at the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT) didn’t go as planned today. Meduza spoke to some of the staff at MZKT — including one of the employees who was arrested before Lukashenko’s speech — to learn more about the mood among workers at the plant now and how badly the president miscalculated by relying on the unequivocal support of “the working people.”

Protesters chanting “Freedom” outside of the Okrestina Street detention center.

Update: Maria Kolesnikova is not headed to the Okrestina detention center. She told The Village that she doesn’t know where this information came from (apparently earlier reports that she was coming to the protest site came from a volunteer at the detention center).

Political consultant Vitaly Shklyarov, who was arrested in Belarus on July 29, is in custody at Pretrial Detention Center–1 in Minsk (one of the the main sites of today’s protests). Through his lawyer Anton Gashinsky, he managed to pass an open appeal along to the media, which was published by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Here’s an excerpt:

The worst thing is that I don’t have any correspondence or contact with the outside world. I am a political prisoner, so letters that I write to my mother, son, wife, and friends every other day aren’t allowed outside of the prison walls. They don’t leave the [pretrial detention center]; I think that the local political advisor [politruk] is cobbling them together diligently for my case. I understand that he is going to dig up something against me there.

Of course the letters they send me from the outside don’t reach me either. Not that they’re censored, some got through, others didn’t […] And they simply don’t pass along the books.

I wanted to write something myself but it’s forbidden! What’s more, every word written in my diary is read and copied.

[…]

Lying in bed during the day is forbidden — for this there’s a guaranteed reprimand and a punishment cell. But after 22:00 it’s lights out. You think that lights out means laying down and falling asleep? Lights out is just when they turn off the music, the patriotic Soviet [music] that thunders from the courtyard from six in the morning. The light in the cell burns continuously, 24 hours a day. The short, iron bunks are so uncomfortable that it’s impossible to sleep. [My] legs are swollen I can’t stretch them out. It’s painful and bright so it’s impossible to get enough sleep. And the constant clang of iron locks and doors. Always. 24 hours a day. In 2020 this can and should be regarded as torture. Torture for freedom of speech, for the wrong views, and articles about the presidential elections.

The remaining protesters are debating whether or not its advisable to gather in a park near the Okrestina Street detention center. Some think it’s a bad idea, due to previous warnings that the demonstrations make things worse for the detainees inside. According to TUT.by, opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova is set to arrive at the site in about 20 minutes. She “hoping to resolve all controversial issues.”

Most of the protesters outside of the detention center on Okrestina Street have dispersed, only 400–500 people remain, reports MBK Media.

Demonstrators have stopped 200 meters from the Okrestina Street detention center, so as not to provoke a conflict, writes Nasha Niva. According to Belsat, the volunteers have cordoned themselves off so as not to let anyone near the walls of the holding facility.

Protesters are now standing in silence outside of the detention center on Okrestina Street, reports Belsat. Demonstrators on a nearby street are chanting “Freedom.”

The scene outside of Minsk’s Pretrial Detention Center–1 just a few hours ago.

Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

The protesters are now en route to the detention center on Okrestina Street.

Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

The crowd outside of Pretrial Detention Center–1 has dispersed almost entirely, reports Euroradio.

Three thousand people are headed towards the Okrestina detention center

On Dzerzhinsky Avenue in Minsk, a volunteer with a megaphone is asking protesters not to go to the Okrestina Street detention center, claiming the demonstrations will make things worse for the detainees — apparently the protests anger the prison administration, and there have been reports of detainees getting beaten because of the noise outside. According to Nasha Niva, the protesters don’t agree with this logic and are continuing their course towards the prison. Nasha Niva estimates that there are 3,000 protesters in the column.

Protesters marching towards the Okrestina Street detention center in Minsk right now.

The view of the crowd from above:

Following appeals from volunteers offering aid to the newly released, the protesters have agreed not to shout slogans outside of the prison, Belsat reports.

It seems Lukashenko’s recount offer, reported moments ago by RIA Novosti as breaking news, was in fact merely part of his speech earlier in the day at the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant, where the president complained that the opposition escalated its demands from a recount to an entirely new election after he says he offered to review the voting records to prove his re-election.

The Telegram channel WarGonzo reports that “team Lukashenko” is recruiting journalists and cameramen from Russia to work in Minsk. They’re looking for people in private, professional chat groups, and offering salaries of 150,000 rubles (more than $2,000, presumably per month), as well as paid living expenses. “Apparently, there are acute personnel shortages in the media sphere due to the strikes among Belarusian journalists,” WarGonzo speculates.

Lukashenko stated that he offered the opposition a recount of the votes, RIA Novosti reports.

Traffic police are trying to stop the protesters marching towards the Okrestina Street detention center from blocking roadways. The people are responding by chanting “Tribunal!”

Today, residents of Vitebsk came to the regional executive committee and demanded to speak to Governor Nikolai Sherstnev (Mikalai Sharsnyou). He refused to come out and speak to the crowd, but invited 15 residents from the initiative group into a meeting.

The participants in the meeting told Sputnik Belarus that Vitebsk officials are thinking about how to make amends with the people who were beaten up during the protests. It’s possible that there will be compensation.

Protesters in central Minsk have split into two groups: one group is still demonstrating outside of Pretrial Detention Center–1 on Volodarsky Street and the other is heading towards the Okrestina Street detention center. Two Orthodox priests announced that they plan to act as “living shields” between the walls of the detention center and the protesters, TUT.by reports.

The Albanian Prime Minister and the Swiss Foreign Minister — the current and incoming OSCE Chair-persons-in-Office — want to visit Belarus to meet with the government and the opposition. They have already made a formal request to the Belarusian authorities.

Protesters in Minsk are now leaving Pretrial Detention Center–1 on Volodarsky Street and marching towards the Okrestina Street detention center.

According to the BBC Russia Service’s correspondent, Independence Square is practically empty and only a few hundred protesters are still rallying outside of the Janka Kupała National Theater. The majority of the protesters have gathered outside of Pretrial Detention Center–1 on Volodarsky Street.

Tikhanovskaya’s team promises to support striking workers and security officers

Radio Svaboda has published a new plan put out by Tikhanovskaya’s team, which promises to reinstate security officers and military personnel who quit their jobs “due to their unwillings to be executioners of their own people,” and take into consideration their civic position when making decisions about personnel and promotions.

The plan also promises that workers fired for going on strike will get their jobs back, as well as funds to support strikers, and compensation for lost wages (to be paid for at the expense of the state budget).

Where will the money from?

According to Tikhanovskaya’s team, public and private sector representatives responsible for unlawful dismissals will be obliged to reimburse all budget expenditures used to cover salaries and provide compensation for dismissed workers.

An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people have gathered outside of Pretrial Detention Center–1 on Volodarsky Street in Minsk, TUT.by says.

“The deputies are shouting and the people are shouting back,” writes Tut.by, describing the demonstration happening on Lenin Square in Grodno. An estimated 15,000 people have gathered there and local deputies have come out to speak to the crowd. The protesters are reiterating their demand that the president step down.

Protesters outside of Pretrial Detention Center–1 in Minsk are chanting “Siarhei!” and “Leave!” The video below shows a priest approaching the gates of the jail. He asked the detention center’s staff to join the protests, reports Mediazona.

The protesters have reached Pretrial Detention Center–1 in Minsk. According to Nasha Niva, there are now about 1,000 people there, chanting “Release!” and “Every day!”

Germany is trying to contact Lukashenko through diplomatic channels, to try and resolve the crisis in Belarus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in conversation with the President of Lithuania, the BBC reports.

Several thousand people are leaving Independence Square and heading towards Pretrial Detention Center–1, reports MBK Media. This is where opposition leaders Sergey Tikhanovsky (Siarhei Tsikhanouski), Nikolai Statkevich (Mikola Statkevich), and Pavel Serevinets (Paval Sieviaryniec) are in custody.

A pro-Lukashenko rally has gathered across the streets from the opposition protests in Gomel. Judging by this photo from the BBC Russian Service, there’s about 11 people in attendance.

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