Belarusian police reportedly arrested at least 200 people, including dozens of journalists, during a protest on Minsk's Independence Square on Thursday evening, August 27. The arrests were made as security forces cleared the crowds, who had gathered to denounce the allegedly fraudulent August 9 presidential election, won by incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. The protests against Lukashenko's rule have entered their third consecutive week and have been reported nationwide. The recent arrests came following Russian President Vladimir Putin's earlier promise of military support to Lukashenko.
Further associated demonstrations are possible in the area in the near term. Previous rallies have been met by a strong response from security forces and resulted in clashes with protesters and arrests. Associated disruptions to transportation and business are likely in the near term.
Election officials announced that Lukashenko had won 80 percent of the vote in the presidential election held on August 9, with the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya gaining 9.9 percent. Lukashenko faced few challenges to his sixth term as president, with his main rivals Valery Tsepkalo and Viktor Babariko being barred from standing. However, the run-up to the election saw increased political tensions and opposition protest activity. Opposition groups have denounced the election results as fraudulent.
Protests have taken place throughout Belarus since the election result was announced, with security forces blocking access to a number of cities as clashes with protesters were reported. Security forces have deployed tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, batons, and concussion grenades in attempts to disperse crowds. Tikhanouskaya subsequently went into exile in Lithuania. Lukashenko announced on August 17 that he was ready to potentially relinquish power following a constitutional referendum; however, this has failed to stem the unrest. The recent promise of military support from Russian President Vladimir Putin has seemingly emboldened Lukashenko, which may lead to a new wave of harsh crackdowns on opposition demonstrations in Minsk and other urban centers.
Those in Belarus, particularly in Minsk, are advised to monitor the situation, avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, adhere to instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments, and refrain from discussing politically sensitive topics in public or on social media.
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