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Russia propagates pro-regime propaganda as crackdown continues in Belarus

Thousands of protesters in Belarus marked President Alexander Lukashenko’s birthday on Sunday with a derisive chant calling him a “psychopath.” The defiant gesture came after a week in which government security forces furthered their crackdown on protesters and journalists in the country. Special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky reports from Minsk.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Belarus, thousands of protesters marked President Alexander Lukashenko's birthday yesterday with a derisive chant of "Happy birthday, psychopath."

    This is after a week in which the government security apparatus furthered their crackdown on protesters and journalists.

    In partnership with the Pulitzer Center, here's special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky in Minsk.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    The embattled leader's birthday was all jeering, not cheering, Sunday. Even still, demonstrators did bring gifts, a funeral wreath and a coffin. One man marked the day dressed as the Angel of Death.

    Despite intimidation and threats, the Belarusians people have continued to protest. And this is exactly what the authorities here don't want you to see, because, over the last week they have arrested dozens of journalists. Many have had their credentials revoked and many have been sent out of the country altogether.

    Belarus ordered a sweeping crackdown on the media in the lead-up to Sunday's march. These were the scenes last week when some 50 journalists were taken into custody as they covered demonstrations in the capital, Minsk. Nineteen reporters were stripped of their government press cards, the foreigners among them expelled, according to the Belarus Press Club.

    Arrests of ordinary rally-goers also continued. A video shared on social media depicts the moment a protester attempting to escape police was dragged off of a bus. In all, close to 500 people were detained last week, according to Belarus' Interior Ministry.

    It's all part of Lukashenko's struggle to hold on to power after he declared himself the winner of an August 9 presidential election, rejected as a fraud by the opposition, the U.S., and the E.U.

    One major power has, however, offered Lukashenko assistance.

  • Alexander Lukashenko (through translator):

    I asked the Russians to give me two, three teams of journalists from the most advanced TV. We're not paying for these Russians at all.

  • Man:

    According to the closest estimates, each new day of illegal protests costs Belarusians from $10 million to $20 million.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    The change in tone on Belarusian state television has not gone unnoticed by ordinary viewers.

  • Siarhei Lisichonak:

    The style of propaganda has changed. Before that, it was much more primitive, and now it became more subtle. We don't want some foreigners brainwash our people.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    One example of that subtle change, the main state broadcaster no longer ignores the very obvious countrywide opposition rallies. Instead, it presents demonstrators either as paid foreign agents or useful idiots with little understanding of why they came out to protest.

  • Woman (through translator):

    This week alternative rallies also took place, not so well attended during the working week, but they did happen, and to ignore them wouldn't be right.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Opposition protesters have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the few independent reporters that dare to cover the protests.

    At a women's march on Saturday, demonstrators prevented security officers in plainclothes from detaining a man with a camera who they had tried to pull from the crowd.

    It was a very different atmosphere at one of the smaller pro-regime rallies the authorities have hastily thrown together in response to the three-week-old protest movement.

  • Woman (through translator):

    The goal of the protests is to come to power and then tear us away from Russia. We can't let that happen.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Riot police were nowhere to be seen, and television crews and photographers could operate openly.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Simon Ostrovsky in Minsk.

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