Mass strikes hit Belarus on the sixth day of protests against the ‘falsified’ re-election of dictator Alexander Lukashenko, while hundreds of ‘tortured’ protesters are released from prison.
Belarusian authorities have released hundreds of people detained amid demonstrations challenging the results of the presidential election, in an effort to lessen public anger at the brutal crackdown on peaceful protests.
Thursday around midnight, dozens of detainees were seen walking out of a prison in the capital, Minsk.
Early Friday morning, volunteers also saw that at least 119 detainees were released in the nearby town of Zhodino.
Workers, including employees of the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ), took part in a mass strike in Minsk today, protesting the results of the presidential election and demanding re-election.
Employees of the Minsk (MAZ) automobile plant are seen through an entrance checkpoint at a rally to protest the results of the presidential election and to demand re-election in Minsk on Friday.
Belarusians leave a detention center in Minsk on Friday, where protesters were held after recent protests against presidential election results
Ambulances arrived to transport people apparently incapable of walking independently.
Video footage taken Friday morning shows workers across the country on strike to protest the results of the presidential election.
The release came hours after Belarus’ chief law enforcement officer apologized on state television for the arbitrary use of force by the police.
“I take responsibility for what they say as violence against those people who happened to be in the area and did not withdraw quickly enough,” Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said late on Thursday.
The apologies and the release of prisoners followed five days of massive protests, with crowds of protesters swarming the streets to dispute the results of the polls and demand an end to authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule.
On Thursday, thousands of workers gathered outside industrial factories to denounce police actions and push for a recount of Sunday’s vote.
Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds were injured in the crackdown on protesters who protested the official results, who said Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and his main opposition challenger only 10%.
Minsk car factory workers take photos while attending a rally to express their solidarity with recent rallies of opposition supporters, who accuse strongman Alexander Lukashenko of falsifying polls in the presidential election in Minsk on Aug. 1.
Police broke up the protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and heavy blows.
On Thursday, hundreds of women formed long ‘lines of solidarity’ in different parts of Minsk. Many were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of detained loved ones.
The human chains grew during the day, filling the main central squares and avenues of the capital, and spread to numerous other cities as motorists honked in support.
In Minsk and several other cities, thousands of factory workers also gathered against the police violence, raising the prospect of strikes in a new challenge for the government.
Protesters shouted “Get out!” to demand the resignation of Mr. Lukashenko.
People are waiting for family members and friends to be released from a detention center, following recent protests against the results of the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 14.
Amid mounting public dismay, dozens of military and police veterans posted videos discarding their uniforms and badges. Several popular anchors on Belarusian state television channels have stopped.
The demonstrations have spread, even though leaders are missing from the protest.
The opposition’s main challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, suddenly surfaced in neighboring Lithuania on Tuesday, calling on her supporters to stop the protests in a video her employees said was shot under pressure from law enforcement officials before she left.
The 37-year-old former teacher entered the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been in prison since May.
The massive protests against the election results and police brutality pose an unprecedented challenge to Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and nicknamed ‘Europe’s last dictator’ for his brutal crackdown on dissent.
The magnitude and brutality of the police action was remarkable, even to Mr. Lukashenko’s iron hand, which caused widespread anger.
After the protesters were dismissed as mostly ex-convicts and unemployed people, the authoritarian leader was silent on Thursday as the demonstrations quickly spread. Some reports said he was preparing a speech to the nation.
Belarusian House of Lords speaker Natalya Kochanova said late Thursday that more than 1,000 prisoners had been released earlier in the day following Mr Lukashenko’s order to law enforcement agencies to further investigate the arrests.
A protester died in Minsk on Monday when, according to the Interior Ministry, an explosive device he was trying to throw at police blew into his hand.
Employees of Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) are seen through an entrance checkpoint during a strike on Friday
Media reports disputed the ministry’s claim, claiming that he was murdered by the police.
The place where he died soon turned into a place of pilgrimage, with hundreds of people, including European ambassadors, laying flowers there.
Authorities said an inmate died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death were not immediately clear.
The brutal repression of protests drew harsh criticism in the West.
European Union foreign ministers were due to meet on Friday to discuss a response, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the bloc of 27 countries would “ increase pressure on Belarus. ”