Protesters took to the streets amid a strong police presence in the Belarusian capital of Minsk after presidential elections on August 9. Police and security forces responded strongly, using crowd control weapons – and their vehicles – to quell the unrest. Protesters fought back with defensive strategies wielding their own vehicles in an ongoing movement against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Results of the contested Belarus presidential election were reported by the Central Election Commission on August 10, showing that Lukashenko won a sixth term. The strongman president reportedly won just over 80 percent of the votes in what the opposition called a rigged election. According to Freedom House, a democracy watchdog organisation, elections in Belarus have not been democratic since Lukashenko was elected in 1994. The organisation calls Belarus an “authoritarian police state in which elections are openly rigged”
Challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a popular blogger in Belarus who took over her husband’s presidential campaign when he was arrested, reportedly won less than 10 percent of votes, according to preliminary numbers reported by the state. On August 11, she left Belarus to go to Lithuania after vowing to challenge the results of the election.
>> Read on France24.com : Belarus election challenger Tikhanouskaya ‘safe’ in Lithuania
Police and military units began to mobilize in Belarusian cities even before election day, awaiting the unrest that would soon unfold. Protests erupted on Sunday, August 9 after a state exit poll showed Lukashenko with a majority of the votes, despite reports that Tikhanovskaya won various polling stations with a wide margin.
A video posted on August 8 shows police and military vehicles driving through the Belarusian capital the day before the presidential election.
Protester hit by police truck, blocking roads a strategy
The internet was largely offline in Belarus following the closure of polls, according to NetBlocks, but videos and photos from eyewitnesses have since been shared widely online. One of the main sources of amateur content was Nexta, a Belarusian media network which shares news mainly through Telegram, but also on Facebook and YouTube. Citizens in Belarus send photos and videos to the outlet to be reposted on its channels and shared with over half a million subscribers.
According to human rights organisation Viasna, at least one protester was killed on the first day of demonstrations, after being run over by a police truck. On August 9, Nexta shared a video of the moment the protester was hit by the police truck.
In a video shared widely on social media on August 9, a truck can be seen running over a protester who had grabbed onto the front of the vehicle.
In close-up photos posted to Twitter on August 10, the Minsk police insignia can be seen on the truck which ran over a protester.
This event caused outrage on social media channels in Belarus and around the world. Police were also seen detaining protesters in vans and buses, sometimes beating them once inside. Because demonstrations were scattered in different areas around Minsk, rather than concentrated in one particular area, police used vehicles to patrol for groups of protesters.
Anticipating the use of police vehicles such as trucks and vans, protesters began to prepare a strategy for the next day’s protest. Protesters with cars were considered an integral part of the protest strategy: they could block roads, transport people and supplies, and alert others to police whereabouts.
Protesters organized on Telegram and other social media channels, sharing tactics that people with cars could use.
In the evening of August 10, cars began blocking the streets of Minsk, creating traffic to prevent police vehicles from entering certain areas. Meanwhile, protesters convened at the Pushkinskaya station.
Protesters in cars blocked the streets near the Pushkinskaya metro station.
A photo shared on the Nexta Telegram channel on August 9 encourages those with cars to help the protests by blocking police vehicles in the roads, delivering supplies to protesters, taking them to get medical care, and patrolling the streets for police presence. (Source: Nexta/Telegram)
“Nights full of honking cars”
Others came together and began barricading roads near Riga mall in Minsk. Ayem Peyem saw the resulting clashes from his home in the area.
The nights are full of honking cars. There is constant honking all night and even during parts of the day. People played music and danced, and by blocking the street with the cars, prevented security forces freedom of manoeuvre in some urban areas. Most Belarusians are trying to live normal lives, they still have to go to work – so it's seemingly life as normal some places – but of course we know it's not. The barricades are built up and destroyed again. The one near my home three times, it will likely be rebuilt at nighttime. The state wants people to go about their lives so they wouldn’t tolerate impeding traffic.
Scattered nails and “hedgehogs” on the roads
Another memo circulated by Nexta on Telegram advised protesters to “scatter nails, screws and homemade ‘hedgehogs’ on the roads, try to inconspicuously punch tires in police vehicles and vans of special services”.
“Hedgehogs”, or caltrops, are a type of military defensive tool made of nails or sharp spines arranged so that one of them is pointed up. In the past, they have been used to deter cavalry or vehicles with tires. A photo of these devices strewn on Minsk streets was posted on August 10.
Small “hedgehogs” were photographed on Minsk streets August 10.
Protests are expected to continue in Minsk, and demonstrators have called for a general strike until new elections are held.
The interior ministry of Belarus reported that more than 5,000 people have been detained in the protests. They have only confirmed one death of a protester, saying that a homemade bomb detonated in his hand. Local news and eyewitness accounts tell of multiple deaths and many more wounded after the two days of protest.
The UN has called upon authorities in Belarus to exercise restraint against protesters while also imploring demonstrators to avoid any actions that would further increase tensions.
Article written by Pariesa Young