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Belarus Protests, Greece Migrants, Christophe Girard: Your Monday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering antigovernment protests in Belarus, Greece’s hard line tactics against maritime migration and the abuse allegations facing a French politician.

It appeared to be the largest protest in the history of Belarus, a former Soviet republic that Mr. Lukashenko has led since 1994. The huge turnout showed that the longtime autocratic leader had failed in his efforts to intimidate opponents.

On the ground: The protest had a festive air and Belarusians walked freely in the city center, wrapped in opposition flags and chanting antigovernment slogans. It was a stark contrast to rallies last week that were violently suppressed by security forces, leaving at least two people dead, and more than 6,000 under arrest.

Many protesters said they came on Sunday because they were shocked to learn that protesters had been tortured after being detained at previous rallies.

What’s next: Mr. Lukashenko has equated his own fate with the nation’s, saying, “If you destroy Lukashenko, it will be the beginning of the end for you.” He appealed to Russia for help on Saturday, and the country’s state news agency said he had secured a promise of security assistance if needed. The Kremlin’s account, however, gave no indication that President Vladimir Putin had offered concrete support.

The Greek government has secretly expelled more than 1,000 refugees from Europe’s borders, sailing many to the edge of Greek waters and then abandoning them in inflatable and sometimes overburdened life rafts.

Since March, Greek officials have dropped at sea at least 1,072 asylum seekers in at least 31 separate expulsions, according to evidence collected by our reporters.

Context: The expulsions, illegal under international law, are the most direct attempt by a European country to block maritime migration with its own forces since the migration crisis in 2015. The Greek government denied any illegality.

What it means: Many Greeks have grown frustrated as tens of thousands of asylum seekers languished on Greek islands. Under a new conservative government, the country has taken a harder line against the migrants — often Syrian refugees — who push off Turkish shores for Europe.

Quote: “It was very inhumane,” said Najma al-Khatib, 50, who says Greek officials took her and 22 others, including two babies, from a detention center and abandoned them in a motorless life raft before they were rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard. “I left Syria for fear of bombing — but when this happened, I wished I’d died under a bomb.”

When a small group of demonstrators gathered to demand the resignation of Christophe Girard, the deputy mayor of Paris, one stood out: Aniss Hmaïd.

The demonstrators wanted Mr. Girard gone for his longstanding support of the pedophile writer Gabriel Matzneff. But Mr. Hmaïd, 46, said he had a more personal reason to be there. Starting at age 15 in Tunisia, Mr. Girard engaged him in a decade-long abusive relationship that left lasting psychological scars, he told The New York Times.

He said that Mr. Girard sexually abused him when he was 16, and then over the following years coerced him for sex on about 20 occasions. In return, Mr. Hmaïd said, Mr. Girard employed him occasionally as a houseboy in his summer home in southern France and gave him temporary jobs at the Yves Saint Laurent design house, where Mr. Girard was a top executive before entering politics.

Mr. Girard has called the accusations slander. But he confirmed that he employed Mr. Hmaïd in the 1990s.

Context: Mr. Girard is the most high-profile figure to be caught in the fallout of the Matzneff scandal, which started this year when one of the writer’s victims, Vanessa Springora published a book chronicling how Mr. Matzneff took advantage of her when she was 14 and he was 50. The case has set off a reckoning over sex, gender and power in France.

Quote of note: “He took advantage of my youth, of my young age and everything for his sexual pleasures,” Mr. Hmaïd said. “It ruined my life, in fact.”

Plentiful salmon used to be one of the perks for residents in the Far East of Russia. But the wild fishery they once took for granted is gone because Moscow has allowed enterprises to string enormous nets across the river’s mouth, they say, adding there is virtually no legal way to catch enough to eat of what little fish remains.

Now, anger over the depleted fish stock is driving the anti-Kremlin protests that have been shaking the city of Khabarovsk, on the Amur River, above, since July. The story of the vanishing salmon sheds light on why Vladimir Putin’s support has fallen — many Russians feel that the country’s elite neither knows or cares about concrete instances of poverty and injustice.

U.S. presidential campaign: With Joe Biden leading in many polls, and Democrats kicking off their convention on Monday, President Trump has attacked mail-in voting — charging, without evidence, that state efforts to help people vote by mail will lead to widespread voter fraud.

Polish cleric: Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz of Poland, who was accused of protecting priests facing allegations of child abuse. Critics said the pope’s move was inadequate.

Britain: All-important “A-level” tests that determine college placement were canceled this year. In their place, officials designed a complex system of estimated grades that many say treats the disadvantaged unfairly.

European football: A thrashing in the Champions League quarterfinals showed Bayern Munich at the peak of its powers and Barcelona at the end of the line.

What we’re reading: This Bloomberg article, headlined “Oil Companies Wonder if It’s Worth Looking for Oil Anymore.” Andrea Kannapell, the Briefings editor, said, “I noticed it because the environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben tweeted his gratitude for ‘the work so many have done to get us to this point!’”

At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

Astead W. Herndon and Alexander Burns, both national political reporters for The Times, followed Kamala Harris as a presidential candidate and are now covering her as Joe Biden’s pick for his running mate. Here are some of their insights on the selection of the first Black woman and Asian-American for a presidential ticket, which they discussed at a Times event.

What was Senator Harris pitching when she entered the Democratic primary race, and how does that compare with what we saw in her and Vice President Biden’s first appearance as running mates?

Astead: She was someone who, during the course of that campaign, would go back and forth from kind of one foot in the progressive lane to a more pragmatic and moderate approach.

But when we look at this role that she’s inhabiting now, the No. 2 does not have to really make those big ideological choices that were forced upon her at the top. She’s freed of the big-picture questions that hounded her throughout the campaign. She’s able to lean into the more representational qualities. And I think that that’s part of the reason that Vice President Biden selected her.

Alex, you wrote a story last summer where you examined Harris, how she thinks about governing and what her philosophy is. What does she think the government is capable of doing?

Going back to the story, it’s pretty clear why she and Joe Biden are a political match. Her resistance to what she sees as abstractions. Her desire to square away this impulse toward inspiration and big ideas with a real skepticism about putting stuff in front of voters that is just not going to pass Congress.

But talking to people who worked with her over the years, there is this sense that she’s somebody who is comfortable in the role of an executive who is making judgment calls on a case-by-case basis as policy challenges come before her. But not somebody who is going to have some expansive integrated tapestry of all her policies and how they are supposed to feed into the moment.

That’s it for this briefing. The week is beginning and it’s all yours!

— Isabella

Thank you
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is on President Trump’s battles with U.S. intelligence agencies.
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