Net silence as Belarus explodes into protest

Long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko has cut off internet across most of Belarus as the country explodes into angry protests in the wake of contested presidential elections. Riot police are unleashing harsh repression, using rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and water hoses against demonstrators in Minsk. One person has been reported killed and many more wounded, including several police officers. According to preliminary results, Lukashenko won an unlikely 80% of the vote in the Aug. 9 election, with the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya taking only 10%. Tikhanovskaya was a surprise replacement for her husband Sergei, a popular blogger who was arrested after he attempted to launch a presidential campaign. She held large rallies in Minsk and other cities, riding a groundswell of popular discontent with Lukashenko. (Politico, The Guardian, Meduza)

Ironically, Lukashenko has this time pointed to Russia rather than the West as scheming to subvert his rule. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko last year agreed to merge their two countries in a "Union State" with a joint parliament, seen as a step toward rebuilding the empire. But no sooner was the deal announced than the two strongmen started spatting over who would be top dog. "Russia is a part of Belarus," Lukashenko even quipped as the deal started to disintegrate in December.

In the lead-up to the election, Lukashenko's security forces reportedly arrested dozens of Russian mercenaries, claiming that hundreds of fighters had infiltrated the country to destabilize the regime. The state media said the mercenaries worked for Wagner Group, Russia's best-known private military contractor. (Al JazeeraMoscow Times, UA Wire)

Strikes spread in Belarus

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has now fled to Lithuania, issued a call for continued peaceful mobilization to force Lukashenko from power. "Don't stay on the sidelines," she said, proposing a broad council to work on the transfer of power. (BBC News) Over the past days, strikes have escalated across the country. In Minsk, trolleybus drivers went on strike in protest at the detention of one of their colleagues at a protest. Workers at a sugar factory in Zhabinka have gone on strike, as have engineers at the Minsk tractor factory. (Global Voices)

EU rejects Belarus election results

Members of the European Council voted Aug. 19 not to recognize Belarus’ election results where President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected in a landslide victory. The EU will also impose sanctions against "a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression and the falsification of election results." (Jurist)

UN rights office urges Belarus to end abuse of protestors

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged Belarus on Sept. 1 to end the torture of protestors and enforced disappearances after they received more than 450 documented reports of torture and mistreatment of persons in custody since the Aug. 9 election. (Jurist)

Belarus opposition leader 'disappeared'

A leading opposition figure in Belarus has gone missing, shortly after witnesses said she was bundled by masked men into a minibus in Minsk. Maria Kolesnikova's whereabouts are unknown. Police have denied detaining her, the Interfax news agency reports. 

Kolesnikova is a member of the Coordination Council set up by the opposition to oversee a transfer of power. Government authorities have launched a criminal case against opposition leaders, saying the "creation and activity of the Co-ordination Council are aimed at seizure of state power, and at harming national security." (BBC News)

Belarus: another opposition leader 'disappeared'

One of the last leading members of the opposition Coordination Council who remained free, attorney Maxim Znak, was taken out of the council's office by unidentified men in ski masks. Znak only had time to text message "masks" before they took the phone away from him, his colleagues said. Unidentified men also tried to enter the apartment of writer Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature and now the only member of the council's executive presidium still free in Belarus. (AP)