bne IntelliNews – Numbers of people and girl power overwhelm Lukashenko riot police at twin weekend rallies in Belarus
Crowds celebrate after OMON riot police ordered to withdraw
At least 200,000 people again took to the streets of Minsk on August 30 in a rehearsal of the March of the demonstration in New Belarus a week earlier and faced a much larger police and military presence than in previous protests to watch OMON leave, unable to break up the protest as they were overwhelmed by the large number of people. It was the birthday of self-proclaimed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. “Happy birthday rat!” people chanted at the end of the rally. Lukashenko previously called the protesters rats.
Sunday’s mass protest was significantly more tense than that of a week earlier, as it appeared Lukashenko intended to deploy more forces in an effort to prevent the rally from happening. Yet despite the troops and military vehicles, the large crowd kept their sense of humor. They marched to Lukashenko’s official residence, the Independence Palace, where they were greeted by a cordon of riot police, chanting, “We have come for the birthday party! We brought gifts! Lukashenko turned 66 on the day of the rally.
An estimated 200,000 people took part in another record-breaking rally on August 30
The mass rally follows a smaller rally the day before, where around 20,000 women marched randomly through the center of town in a women-only solidarity rally against Lukashenko, which is widely believed to have massively tampered with the presidential election of August 9 and claims to have collected more than 80% of the vote.
– Aldin (@aldin_ww) August 30, 2020
APC, special riot trucks and water cannons were seen in the center of town.
Military vehicles made their first appearance at a rally, but the crowd was so large that authorities did not use them.
However, there has still been no violence as the crowds have stopped a short distance in front of Lukashenko’s lines of force outside his residence and they are still reluctant to provoke a violent response.
There was a scuffle when plainclothes policemen tried to stop pedestrians and bystanders intervened and violently pushed back the plainclothes policemen, pushing them into their car. State-controlled television reported the incident as protesters attacking police, but social media also suggested the incident was provocation by authorities to justify the use of force.
A fight broke out when plainclothes police attempted to arrest a man in the street, who was rescued by the crowd.
As it stood, the day passed in peace because once again Lukashenko’s forces proved insufficient to cope with such large crowds. In another demonstration of particularly Belarusian defiance, a group of women wearing traditional clothing brought pumpkins to the presidential palace – a traditional sign of the rejection of a suitor.
But the president continues to exaggerate the situation. His press secretary posted another photo of Lukashenko in front of his resident wearing a bulletproof vest and wielding a machine gun.
A similar image emerged during the large demonstration last week, although Lukashenko was widely criticized afterwards because it appears there was no magazine in the weapon.
OMON riot police were helpless in the face of an angry mob of women on Saturday August 29. Refusing to use force on the ladies, OMON tied the arms and attempted to prevent the women from advancing towards the center of town, but the press of the bodies soon pierced their lines. The police were helpless and quickly overwhelmed.
Women rush to protect a man when an OMON office tries to arrest him.
The police were doubly baffled, as the march had no clear destination or purpose. When OMON more effectively closed another road, the women simply turned around and started walking in a new direction. The OMON rushed to catch up with the crowd and block its new direction as the serpentine mass of women, many dressed in white clothes and fed, made their way around the city.
And the women proactively protected the handful of men accompanying them. In two separate incidents, police or plainclothes officers intervened to arrest a man in the crowd. The women immediately threw their arms around the potential victim and began to bring him to safety, while other women stepped in front of the officers, making a human barricade. Not wanting to use force against the peaceful and unarmed protesters, the officers simply chose to walk away.
The women were in loud voices, chanting slogans such as “This is our city,” “We are power,” “Fight like a girl and“ Belarussy Riot ”(a reference to the anti-government Russian punk group Pussy Riot), but they also ridiculed the officers deployed against them, asking, “Where is your mother ?!” and on another occasion: “No one will sleep with you.”
Women chant “where is your mother” to OMON agents who block their way
74-year-old veteran protester Nina Bahinskaya also made her inevitable appearance and was greeted with enthusiastic applause and chants of “Nina!”
The little old lady has been a fixture in all anti-government protests for years, to the point that the state has currently tied up half of her pension to cover the accumulated fines she has racked up over the years.
She rose to prominence in these protests after being repeatedly filmed on widely shared videos, fearlessly defying OMON officers, facing them with her red and white flag waving. During one accession, an OMON officer, almost twice his size, confiscated his flag and started to walk away as Bahinskaya punched him ineffectively from behind while shouting insults at the back of his head.
The video showed both the weakness of the population in the face of a militarized police force and at the same time their total determination to continue their fight against injustice. Bahinskaya has become an icon of history and is now increasingly recognized internationally for its struggle.
74-year-old retiree Nina Bahinskaya has fearlessly protested Lukashenko’s regime for years
The most Orthodox leaders were also on the streets. Maria Kolesnikova, one of the trios who campaigned against Lukashenko, was also on the streets to meet the crowd and join the march, which greeted her with applause and slaps on the hands.
Opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova attended both demonstrations. On August 30, she met with OMON who guarded the presidential palace. “Is your boss going to talk to me?” Take it easy, guys. We will save you at the end. ”
On the morning of August 28, the authorities deprived the entire foreign press of their accreditation, forbidding them to work or to cover the mass marches planned for the weekend. The only exception was for journalists from the Russian press friendly to the Kremlin, including the RT channel.
Many local journalists, Belarusian citizens, have been caught in the shutdown while working for international media, with the US-funded RFE / RL being the largest of these.
The governments of the US, UK, Switzerland and the EU have issued a joint statement condemning the move.
If the intention was to impose a media blackout before clashes between police and protesters over the weekend, the effort was doomed to failure as much of the information on what is happening in Minsk is shared on social networks and published by participants. of the demonstrations themselves.
“Nexta, with 2 million Telegram subscribers, has become one of the main sources of information in Belarus,” said founder Stsiapan Putsila. Putsila is 22 years old and was not even born when Lukashenko took power in 1994. He has been working from exile. from an office in Poland, where he studied, and is now guarded by uniformed police.
The Nexta channel recorded more than a billion views last month, making it currently the most watched news channel in the world. And he’s been proactive not only in sharing protesters’ comments and videos, but has also actively called for rallies, set dates, and can coordinate crowd movements in real time.
OMON riot police targeted me during the Great March of Women day, snatching a man from a trolley bus as the women shouted and the children shook in terror.