Belarusian students took the opportunity of the opening of the academic year to strike and protest against President Lukashenko. Both in the capital Minsk and in smaller provincial towns, young people with flags and red and white clothing took to the streets.
According to human rights organization Viasna, dozens of students have been arrested. A number of local journalists and a correspondent of the Russian press agency Ria Novosti were also arrested.
Images shared via Telegram groups show that the riot police are struggling to break through the protest marches. Students form human chains to prevent protesters from being arrested. They shout slogans like “Lukashenko, you’re a rat”.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania, had also called for the student strike. In a statement her team wrote that September 1 “is the day of knowledge and thus the meaning of Belarusian solidarity”. Workers from various factories also went on strike today.
The protests against Lukashenko continue four weeks after the controversial presidential elections. Thousands of demonstrators have been arrested and some have died. There are hardly any foreign journalists in the country anymore, because accreditations have been withdrawn.
The Human Rights Council of the United Stations today called on the president to stop the torture of arrested demonstrators. In a report, the UN organization writes that at least 450 cases of torture have been documented. At least six demonstrators went missing after their arrest, the Council states.
Lukashenko warns of massacre
Today, the president let it be known that he is not worried about his position. “I will protect with my hands what we have built in a quarter of a century,” he said, according to state news agency Belta. “I don’t want my country cut to pieces, because that will be a massacre,” Lukashenko warned. He has ruled the former Soviet republic for 26 years.
The disputed president retains the support of his eastern neighbour. Today, the Russian Ministry of Finance informed press agency Interfax that consultations are being held with the Belarusian authorities on debt restructuring. The state banks have run into difficulties following a fall in the Belarusian rouble. The protest movement is also calling for money to be withdrawn from the bank.
In the meantime, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has taken the Baltic States, which have imposed sanctions on high-ranking Belarusians. According to Lavrov, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are thus passing their own sentences, ‘while the Belarusian people have every opportunity to solve their own problems’. Lukashenko says he is working on sanctions against the three countries.
Tomorrow Belarusian ministers will travel to Moscow for consultations with the Kremlin. Lukashenko is also planning to travel to the Russian capital for a meeting with President Putin, but it is still unclear when this will take place.