MINSK, Belarus – The Belarusian authorities have blocked more than 50 news media sites covering how the country was rocked by two-week protests leading to the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko demanded 26 years in power.
The Belarusian Union of Journalists reported on Saturday's shutdowns that included locations for US-funded Radio Liberty and Belsat, a Polish-funded satellite television channel focusing on neighboring Belarus.
The move is unlikely to prevent Belarusians from keeping abreast of events through what has turned out to be the main electronic platform for the protests: the instant messaging service Telegram. However, the move is yet another sign that the government is trying to take command of recent events.
On Friday the state publisher stopped printing two top independent newspapers, Narodnaya Volya and Komsomolskaya Pravda, citing a malfunction in the equipment
after the August 9th presidential election broke in Belarus protests that were historic by their size and duration. According to election officials, Mr. Lukashenko was given a sixth term in a landslide. Protesters say the official results are fraudulent and demand Mr. Lukashenko's resignation.
The police reacted harshly in the first days of the protests, arresting thousands of people and hitting many people hard. However, police action only broadened the scope of the protests, and anti-government strikes were called in some of the country's most important factories, the former support bases for Mr Lukashenko. Some police officers have posted videos of themselves burning their uniforms and stopping them.
In tremendous defiance, an estimated 200,000 demonstrators gathered in the capital Minsk last weekend. But Mr Lukashenko went unbowed and insisted that the protests against him threaten the very existence of Belarus, and the question now is whether the protesters, under veiled threats of violence against them, will turn out to be similar again.
Mr. Lukashenko's main opponent for elections, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has called for another major opposition in a protest this Sunday. One of the most popular nightlife areas in Minsk was unusually empty on Saturday evening, as many young people in the capital were preparing for an important day in the movement against Lukashenko.
"We are closer to our dream than ever before," Ms. Tikhanovskaya said in a video message from Lithuania, where she sought refuge after the elections. Some of the previous challengers to the Belarusian president have been imprisoned for years.
The public statements of support for Mr. Lukashenko, who has governed Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, were comparatively modest. A pro-government rally in Minsk last weekend attracted around a quarter as many people as the protest march.
On Saturday only about 25 people came for a bike ride to show support for the president, while hundreds of people women in white formed a chain in Minsk to protest against his government.
"Threats, intimidation, blockades work Not anymore. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians tell him to leave every nook and cranny, ”said Anna Sku ratovich, one of the women in the chain.
Protesters say they are fed up with the falling standard of living in the country and angry about Mr. Lukashenko's release from the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Lukashenko has claimed that the protests are inspired by Western forces, including the United States, and that NATO is deploying forces near Belarus' western border. The alliance denies this claim.
On Saturday, Mr. Lukashenko spoke at a rally of several thousand supporters in Grodno, where he threatened to close striking factories. Strikes hit some of the country's largest corporations, including vehicle and fertilizer makers, which is a potential blow to the largely state-controlled economy.
The authorities threatened the demonstrators with criminal charges on Friday in order to stop the protests. The investigators also asked several opposition activists to question them.