Video shows Belarus riot police lowering their shields and being hugged by protesters, as ‘Europe’s last dictator’ clings to power

  • Footage published by CNN on Friday shows riot police officers in Belarus lowering their shields in a sign of solidarity with the country’s protesters and being embraced by them.
  • It comes after a week of unprecedented protests against President Alexander Lukashenko and his claim to have won the country’s presidential election. Critics say the vote was rigged.
  • At least 6,000 protesters have been detained, with many reporting being victims of police torture. The Belarusian interior ministry has since promised to release all the imprisoned demonstrators.
  • Lukashenko, meanwhile, is clinging to power. On Saturday he published a statement calling the protests a “scenario of aggression against Belarus.”
  • He also released 32 Russian mercenaries that President Vladimir Putin has been trying to get back, in what could be a ploy to get Putin’s support against the protesters.
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At least 50 riot police officers in Belarus have lowered their shields in a sign of solidarity with the protesters protesting last week’s election result, CNN reported.

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina on Friday tweeted a video of an officer holding their shield on the ground in front of the Central Elections Committee Building in Minsk. The protesters respond by hugging them.

Photos from the same location show protesters hugging riot police officers.

The scenes come after a week of protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, who last Sunday claimed victory in the latest presidential election. His office said he had won over 80% of the vote, though critics believe it was rigged.

Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994 and is widely described as “Europe’s last dictator.”

Several military and police officers have pledged not to attack protesters in an apparent rejection of Lukashenko in recent days, according to CNN.

Belarusian TV station Nexta aired a video of a police officer saying he would not follow “criminal orders.” He also urged colleagues not to point their guns at peaceful protesters.

Footage from this week’s demonstrations showed protesters and police clashing, sometimes violently. At least 6,000 people have been arrested and detained, with many saying they were beaten and tortured upon arrest.

People detained during recent rallies of opposition supporters, who accuse strongman Alexander Lukashenko of falsifying the polls in the presidential election, show their traces of beatings as they leave the Okrestina prison early morning in Minsk on August 14, 2020. - Thousands of protesters formed human chains and marched in Belarus on August 13, 2020 in a growing wave of peaceful demonstrations over President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed re-election and an ensuing brutal police crackdown. (Photo by Sergei GAPON / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images)
Detained protesters show traces of what they said were beatings as they leave the Okrestina prison in Minsk on August 14, 2020. SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images

The Belarusian interior minister issued a rare apology for the attacks on the protesters on Friday, saying that all demonstrators detained would be freed. Hundreds have been released so far.

On Wednesday, the country’s state TV broadcast footage of six apparently bruised protesters promising to give up.

Putin helps out

As protests raged on, Lukashenko on Saturday published a statement calling the demonstrations a “scenario of aggression against Belarus,” and suggested that there were “elements of external interference,” according to BBC Monitoring.

The Kremlin also published a statement – albeit vague – saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko had spoken on the phone and “expressed confidence that emerging problems will be settled.”

Putin has long wanted Belarus to stay closely aligned to Russia, though his relationship with Lukashenko was complicated earlier this month when Belarus arrested 33 Russian mercenaries.

Russia, on Friday, announced that Belarus had returned 32 of those detained Russian citizens.

The release may have been part of Lukashenko’s ploy to encourage Russian support against the protesters. As one NATO official told Insider’s Mitch Prothero earlier this week, before the Russians were released: “My guess is that Lukashenko will extract some support from Putin and eventually return the mercenaries.”