On Sunday, August 16, over 200,000 gathered in Minsk in the largest demonstration so far amid recent unrest over the result of the presidential election held on Sunday, August 9. The protest against President Alexander Lukashenko was dubbed the "March for Freedom" and took place near the Stela Minsk Hero City World War Two memorial in the centre of the capital. Despite a recent crackdown during previous protests this week, there was reportedly a relatively low visible presence of security forces during Sunday's demonstration. Lukashenko's supporters held their own rally in Minsk on Sunday, although it was far less well attended, with reports varying from 5000 to 65,000 participants.
Other anti-government protests were reported in Brest, Gomel, and other towns and cities across Belarus over the weekend. Further unrest is expected across Belarus in the coming days as the situation has shown little signs of being resolved. Overland transport disruption is likely in the vicinity of demonstrations.
Election officials announced on Monday, August 10, that Lukashenko had won 80 percent of the vote in Sunday's poll, with the main opposition candidate Svetalna 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 following the election 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. At least two people have been killed and around 6700 people have reportedly been arrested during the unrest, although around 2000 have since been released in a rare sign of concession from the government. After being detained on Monday night, Tikhanouskaya was forced into exile in Lithuania. On Friday, August 14, she called for opponents of Lukashenko to continue to demonstrate over the weekend.
Those in Belarus 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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