After a weekend of mass protests across Belarus and amid calls for a general strike, President Alexander Lukashenko decided to once again turn off his country’s internet.
Lukashenko’s decision to disconnect millions of people was not the result of the largest opposition rally in Belarus’ history, but because some workers at a military truck factory booed him while he was giving a speech.
Lukashenko had traveled to the factory on Monday morning via helicopter to avoid the protesters filling the streets of Minsk. Even the audience at the MZKT factory had been selected to include only the most loyal workers.
But despite the efforts to shield Lukashenko from the growing anger towards him, the crowd at the factory began to drown out the president’s speech with shouts of “Leave” and “Resign.”
A clearly angry Lukashenko responded to the shouting workers, saying: “Are you saying the elections were unfair and you want fair ones? Here’s your answer. We had an election. There won’t be any other elections until you kill me.”
Embarrassed by the public humiliation, and as video clips of the incident began to be shared online, Lukashenko’s government turned off the internet again.
The blackout on Monday morning “appears technically consistent with the extended blackout following the election in Belarus,” Alp Toker, director of internet monitoring group NetBlocks, told VICE News.
Last week Lukashenko’s government blocked vast swathes of the internet including all popular social media networks and most news websites following a controversial election where Lukashenko won by a landslide.
The government claimed that the first internet blackout was caused by foreign interference or technical failure, but research from NetBlocks, first reported by VICE News, found that the blackout was carried out on purpose and would have taken a lot of planning.
By the middle of last week, the government had lifted the restrictions, but on Monday, following a weekend of mass protests and calls for a general strike, the widespread blackout was imposed once again.
READ: Belarus cut off the internet and tried to make it look like an accident
The integrity of last week’s vote has been called into question by opposition groups in Belarus as well as a number of foreign governments, including Germany and the U.K.
Anger at Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years and has been described as Europe’s last dictator has grown, and that culminated on Sunday with a mass opposition rally in Minsk, that independent news site Tut.by described as “the largest in the history of independent Belarus.”
Cover: Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the center of Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Opposition supporters whose protests have convulsed the country for a week aim to hold a major march in the capital of Belarus. Protests began late on Aug. 9 at the closing of presidential elections. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)