Live-blog: Unrest in Belarus Factory workers boo Lukashenko, nationwide strike declared, protests outside state TV station in Minsk
- 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.
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.
The protesters are now en route to the detention center on Okrestina Street.
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.
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.
What’s happening Belarus right now
— Former Belarusian Culture Minister Pavel Latushko (Paval Latushka) has been 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.
— Thousands of people have gathered at Independence Square in Minsk. Opposition Telegram channels are encouraging them to head to the Okrestina Street detention center at 8:00 p.m. local time, to demand the release of detainees. Volunteers camped out outside the jail to provide aid to the newly released are asking people not to do this, for fear that they will be dispersed along with the protesters.
— Some protesters have left Independence Square and joined the rally in support of Pavel Latushko outside of the Janka Kupała National Theater.
— Rallies are taking place in other cities across Belarus. Miners in Soligorsk have announced the beginning of an indefinite strike. Meanwhile, about 15,000 people have gathered in Grodno.
Several thousand people are rallying at Lenin Square in Gomel.
Nasha Niva’s correspondent reports that thousands of people are headed towards Independence Square, coming from the direction of Independence Avenue and other neighboring streets.
MBK Media reports that an estimated 2,000 people have gathered at Independence Square in Minsk.
Today’s protests in Saligorsk (southern Belarus).
Maria Kolesnikova has filed a request with the Belarusian Attorney General’s Office, demanding that the authorities “conduct an investigation and initiate criminal proceedings against those who have broken the law,” as well as the “immediate release of unconvicted and illegal detained persons.”
According to a new report from TUT.by, 76 people have disappeared over the course of the protests in Belarus.
Vitebsk right now. The protesters are chanting “Lukashenko leave!”
The opposition Telegram channel Nexta Live is calling on workers to gather at Independence Square at 6:00 p.m., and then march to the Okrestina detention center at 8:00 p.m. to demand the release of detainees.
People have already started gathering at Independence Square in Minsk. About 500 people are there so far. According to Sputnik Belarus they’re conducting a “sitting strike.” The medical workers who were previously protesting outside of the Health Ministry building are now making their way to Independence Square, reports Belsat.
According to Nasha Niva, Andrey Sudam wasn’t the one who filmed Lukashenko during the workers’ rally at MZKT and he wasn’t the only person detained. All total, five people were arrested, questioned, and had their phones searched. They were released after being given a warning.
Arrested MZKT worker Andrey Sudam has been released, reports Radio Svaboda. Apparently he is home, but not giving comments to the media.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has made a statement maintaining that NATO doesn’t pose a threat to Belarus, and that it supports the country’s independence and sovereignty.
This comes in response to racist comments Lukashenko made yesterday about NATO sending “black-skinned, yellow-faced, and blonde-headed soldiers” to invade Belarus.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s campaign manager Maria Moroz has released a video calling on Belarusians to join the strikes: “They [the authorities] only understand the language of force and concrete economic damage. So we have to show them that we are ready to inflict this on them,” she says.
In case you missed it, you can read a full English-language translation of Tikhanovskaya’s latest address here:
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s Coordination Council for the transfer of power in Belarus will include, among others, Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, the chairman of the “Vesna” human rights center, Ales Belyatsky, and pediatric specialist Dr. Andrey Bitushko, who was arrested on August 10.
The full list of members who have been approved so far is available here.
The Belarusian Metallurgical Plant in Zhlobin has resumed work following a protest rally earlier today, reports RIA Novosti.
The Belarusian Central Elections Commission is maintaining that the results of voting at precincts are not available, there were electoral violations, and there are no grounds for refusing to recognize the election results, reports Sputnik Belarus.
Victor Babariko’s (Viktar Babaryka) lawyer was allowed to visit him in pretrial detention for the first time in 10 days. Here’s what he had to say:
“From August 7–11 he was in an information vacuum, on August 12 and 13 he was allowed to watch [state] television (BT) and received [a copy of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda]. There were no other sources of information […] Like all the people of Belarus, Viktor Babariko is grieving for his lost compatriots and expresses his condolences to the victims, their relatives, and those close to them. He is convinced that it’s unacceptable for the authorities to fight against the people. Nothing can ever justify torture, it’s unforgivable.”
Statement from the Belarusian Health Minister
There are 158 people still in hospital with various injuries — three of them are seriously injured, they are all in stable condition. I am the acting [minister]. If there are no more question, I’ll go back to work.
Military medics in uniform were driving ambulances. If there are photos, provide [them], we will investigate. I’m ashamed of the doctors who did not provide routine medical care.
Medical workers have begun protesting outside of the Health Ministry building in Minsk. According to the live stream from Radio Svaboda, they are demanding that the health minister resign, and that they be allowed access to detainees so they can provide them with medical care.
Sputnik Belarus says that the healthcare workers are also demanding an independent medical examination in the cases of people injured during the protests.
When Health Minister Vladimir Karanik (Uladzimir Karanik) came out to address the rally, everyone began shouting “Leave!” and “Resign!”
Lukashenko earlier today: Until you kill me, there won’t be other elections.
Lukashenko’s latest: well maybe elections could be held if a new constitution were to be adopted.
Belarusian human rights activists believe that at least five people have been killed during the protests so far, reports the independent news agency BelaPAN.
According to the co-owner of the Belarusian IT company Rozum Robotics, Mikhail Chuprinsky, while he was in custody at the Okrestina detention center, he saw “two people], who were covered [over] and taken away.” Chuprinsky says that he saw this from his cell. This is the first known report of potential deaths at the detention center.
According to Yuri Makhnach, a police officer from the city of Lida (Grodno Region, western Belarus), this is how law enforcement were prepared for the elections and the protests:
“The ideology was as follows: if the current government loses, then each of us will be hanged from a branch on the side of the road. Therefore, this government must be protected by any means [possible].”
The officer says that this explains the police brutality — detainees in Lida were also severely beaten:
“Terrible things happened in Lida: people were beaten at the [district police department], there were beatings and torture in the police vans, and in the [district police department] car wash.”
He says this was carried out by riot police (OMON) officers, as well as officers from the Lida district police department (ROVD).
This evening, protesters are planning to go to the Okrestina detention center in Minsk and demand the release of detainees. This is in addition to the 6:00 p.m. rally planned at Independence Square.
Belarusian state investigators are launching an inquiry in response to reports about online harassment and threats against members of the security forces, military personnel, and elections officials.
The view of the rally outside of the state broadcaster BT from inside the building.
Police officers are stationed inside.
The scene outside the building is pretty impressive too: Protesters are chanting “Leave!”
A musical protest, courtesy of the Minsk Philharmonic.
All Belaruskali mines have stopped production, reports Radio Svaboda.
A huge column of workers from the Minsk Motor Plant have taken to the streets.
The Belarusian Metallurgical Plant in Zhlobin (Gomel Region) has stopped work.
An unofficial “exit poll” aboard the Minsk subway. One man asks, “Who voted for Lukashenko” and is met with silence. When he asks “And for Tikhanovskaya?” people respond with cheers.
All-National Television (ONT) aired footage of workers chanting “Leave!” during Lukashenko’s address at MZKT.
2:00 p.m. local time update
— Alexander Lukashenko revealed his tactic for handling the street protests: don’t address it, just use force
—Workers from factories in Minsk have joined a rally at Belteleradio.
— The deputy head of the Belarusian Interior Ministry, Alexander Barsukov, has been accused of beating a detainee twice.
— Officially, 122 of the people arrested during the protests are still in custody. At least 700 people have filed complaints for violence used against them during and after their arrests. Lukashenko has supposedly promised to sort it out, but his rhetoric makes it clear that he is siding with the country’s law enforcement.
— Strikes are continuing across the country.
Employees rallying at the National State TV and Radio Company (Belteleradio).
Workers at the Belarusian Metallurgical Plant gathering their colleagues for a strike.
And workers rallying at BelAZ.
The Belarusian Attorney General’s Office has published a list of people who were arrested during the protests and are still under administrative arrest — apparently, 122 people across the country have yet to be released, the majority are in custody in Zhodino and Brest.
According to the Belarusian Investigative Committee: 600 people have filed complaints about suffering beatings during their arrests. In addition, 100 people have filed complaints about being beaten while in custody. State investigators have yet to launch a single case for attacks on protesters.
Reportedly, one of the workers who asked Lukashenko a question during his MZKT appearance has been arrested.
If you’d like to listen to Lukashenko’s full speech at MZKT, Tut.by has you covered (there’s also a transcript of the address, in Russian).
Maria Kolesnikova giving a speech outside of the ONT building earlier today.
The rally outside of the ONT building (this footage is from a few hours ago).
Another snapshot of the rally at MZKT. Around noon, approximately 2,000 people began moving from this location to the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ), where workers are also on strike.
12:00 p.m. local time update
Today’s protests got off to an early start, so here’s a roundup of everything that happened before noon:
— President Alexander Lukashenko addressed workers at the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT). The response was less than friendly: workers chanted “Leave!” The speech included two important statements from Lukashenko: 1) There won’t be new elections unless he is killed, and 2) The only people who were beaten at the Okrestina detention center were those who attacked police (for testimonies that debunk these claims, click the links below).
— Workers from other factories gathered near MZKT for a rally. Opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova gave a speech, asking the workers to nominate their representatives for the Coordination Council for the transition of power (Tikhanovskaya announced the council’s creation on Friday, August 14).
— Workers at enterprises around the country have gone on strike, as well, including employees at the fertilizer manufacturer Belaruskali — one of the biggest companies in the country (Belaruskali is actually one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of potash fertilizers in the world).
— In Minsk, there’s a rally going on outside of the All-National Television (ONT) building — workers at this state-owned television station have gone on strike. Reportedly, employees of the state-owned news agency BelTA are striking, too.
“Until you kill me, there won’t be other elections” — Lukashenko
Workers chanting “Leave!” and “Shame!” at President Alexander Lukashenko during his address earlier today at MZKT.
Workers on strike at the Belarusian Automobile Plant (BelAZ).
Workers are protesting in other cities, as well. Below are workers who walked off the job at “Grodnopromstroy.”
Industrial workers protesting near MZKT earlier today. The photo below shows workers from Minskenergo, the one the right is holding a sign that says “Long live Belarus!”
Opposition protesters are planning to gather at Independence Square in downtown Minsk at 6:00 p.m. local time. According to opposition Telegram channels, the demonstrators want to show that they are prepared to hold rallies every day.
Earlier today Lukashenko visited the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT). Photos and videos show employees from nearby factories heading for MZKT. Workers from the Minsk Tractor Plant (MTZ) declared a daily strike.
Hello! We’re back covering the second week of opposition protests in Belarus. This weekend saw 200,000 opposition demonstrators protesting in Minsk, in addition to major rallies in city across the country. Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko insists he isn’t going anywhere.
On Sunday, August 16, Lukashenko addressed supporters in Minsk and had another phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin (the second in 24 hours). The Kremlin confirmed that Russia has agreed provide “all necessary assistance” to resolve the security problems in Belarus, in accordance with the principles of the Union State Treaty and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. For more on what that means, check the link below.