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We’re covering a weakening dictator in Belarus, the virus’s surge in France and Boris Johnson’s reversal on school exams.
Belarusians tell the president: ‘Go away’
Suddenly, President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus is looking surprisingly weak.
With protests against his rule intensifying, Mr. Lukashenko turned for support on Monday to the once reliably loyal workers at a tractor factory. But he was shouted down with chants of “Go away!”
Until he claimed victory in a fraud-tainted election on Aug. 9, few leaders appeared more secure than the man known as “Europe’s last dictator,” who has ruled Belarus for 26 years with a brutal security apparatus.
Now, the capital, Minsk, long known for its cowed calm, has raised its voice with a simple, insistent demand: The dictator must go. His former bastions of support, like state-owned factories and state-controlled television stations, are wavering. The security forces have not broken ranks but, at least for now, have mostly retreated from the streets.
What’s next: Mr. Lukashenko has sought help from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who has shown little interest in throwing him a lifeline. On Monday, Mr. Lukashenko said that a new election could be possible, just a few minutes after saying the opposite. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main opposition candidate, offered herself on Monday as an interim leader until new elections could be held.
Deeper look: The Times reviewed hundreds of videos and spoke to several protesters who were beaten, arrested or detained in a crackdown last week. Here’s what they revealed.
Coronavirus regains strength in France
France has been recording about 3,000 new coronavirus infections per day, about twice as many as at the start of August. Faced with this resurgence, officials have made mask-wearing mandatory in widening areas of Paris and other cities — and are pleading with the French not to let down their guard.
The new wave emerged as people resumed traveling and socializing over the summer. Many, especially the young, have visibly relaxed their vigilance; one report found that 30 percent of the new infections were in people from 14 to 33. Deaths and intensive-care hospitalizations are far lower than during the French outbreak’s peak, but officials are still worried.
On the ground: Perhaps because of the government’s contradictory messages on masks, people were slow to start wearing them in newly mask-mandatory zones in Paris. Along stretches of the Seine over the weekend, only about half of the pedestrians were wearing them.
Comparison: The pandemic’s course in Europe has followed a trend, with Spain also reporting new local clusters. But there are disparities: In the past week, as France reported 20,000 new cases, Italy reported 7,000 and Britain 3,000, according to our data.
In other news:
Herd immunity might not be so far off. Scientists previously said it would require 70 percent of a given population to be immune. Now, more than a dozen experts say the threshold could be just 50 percent.
New Zealand said on Monday that it would postpone its national election by four weeks as a cluster of new cases continues to spread in Auckland, its largest city.
Belgium announced that students would return to school five days a week starting Sept. 1, as officials say the benefits of in-person education outweigh the risks posed by the pandemic.
Japan’s economy shrank by 7.8 percent in the second quarter of the year, its worst performance on record.
The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage, and our Coronavirus Briefing newsletter — like all of our newsletters — is free. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.
Britain backtracks on school exams
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government abandoned an improvised college-entrance exam system on Monday after a barrage of protests from teachers, parents and students.
Critics said the system, a replacement for traditional testing during the pandemic, discriminated against economically disadvantaged students.
Context: Because the standardized exams, known as A-levels, could not be held during lockdown, teachers predicted how students would score, based on their previous work and practice exams. An education regulator then adjusted those figures using an algorithm, which took into account each school’s past exam performance. (Taking teachers’ estimates at face value, regulators feared, could result in “grade inflation.”)
Around 40 percent of the predicted scores were downgraded, with just 2 percent increasing. The main victims, critics said, were bright pupils from less affluent backgrounds, whose schools had not previously performed well.
If you have 6 minutes, this is worth it
Big Oil in Europe is getting greener
Last month, Royal Dutch Shell won a contract to build a wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. Earlier in the year, the French oil company Total, which owns a battery maker, agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Above, a floating solar installation in Britain.
What we’re reading: This Washington Post feature about karaoke superfans desperate for their favorite pastime to return. “The Post’s series on the things we lose really chips away at big questions I’ve been asking myself about what life will look like next year — or the year after that,” writes Melina Delkic, on the Briefings team.
Now, a break from the news
Deal: If your college kid is learning from home this fall, we have tips to make it easier for everyone.
Read: Beach reads are a state of mind. Even if you’re far from an ocean breeze this summer, this roundup, including the latest by Kevin Kwan of “Crazy Rich Asians” fame, will help you escape.
At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.
And now for the Back Story on …
The Belarus protests
The protests on Sunday in Minsk, Belarus, were the largest in the country’s modern history. Workers booed President Aleksandr Lukashenko out of their factory on Monday. A widespread uprising came several days after an election, widely dismissed as a sham, gave Mr. Lukashenko his sixth term. Melina Delkic talked to Ivan Nechepurenko, a reporter there now, about the moment.
Why was this election different?
On Aug. 9, the incumbent seeks re-election for his sixth term. He controls everything — the electoral commissions, the law enforcement. He either jails all of his rivals or they are forced to flee the country.
By a coincidence, one person gets to be registered: the wife of one of his viable rivals. She was only allowed to run on the ballot because he dismissed her as a housewife, and he thought she wouldn’t be a threat. But people’s fatigue of him had grown so big that people voted for her, and not for him. And when the election results were announced, the exit poll results, it said that 80 percent voted for the incumbent. People were really shocked by this number. This high number didn’t represent what the mood in the country has been.
What led tens of thousands of people to come out? Was this a major shift from the norm?
The situation here has been such that people were really afraid to do anything that could invite the attention of the police. Ever since Mr. Lukashenko came to power in 1994, people were living in fear of expressing their views.
For me as a journalist, you could never get last names from people because they were afraid to give them. This was the situation for 26 years. The last week was something different.
Suddenly you see that half of that city is out. I asked some people, who say, “This is the first time I’ve expressed my opinion — the first time I’ve given my last name.”
The Times and other outlets have reported on police beatings of protesters. Is there any recourse to police brutality in Belarus?
No. You cannot even say anything. The more you complain, talk about your rights, the more they beat you. They don’t care who you are, where you come from.
Is Vladimir Putin paying attention? Is he threatened by this?
I think it’s very tempting to make it look geopolitical, but it’s not geopolitical as of now. I wouldn’t say it’s a pro-Western revolution. It’s an anti-tyranny revolution. Belarus is different from Ukraine in the sense that it is a very coherent and uniform country. There are no big regional differences: The whole country is basically pro-Russian or neutral.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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