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21st May 2022

Defiant Belarus protestors demand Lukashenko step down

  • Unofficial estimates put the number of protestors in Minsk at 200,000 (Photo: Amnesty International)

Tens of thousands of protesters in Belarus took to the streets on Sunday (23 August) in Minsk demanding longtime president Alexander Lukashenko to step down and defying warnings from the military.

It was the biggest demonstration since a disputed election on 9 August, as protestors chanted for him to leave power and gathered near the president's residence, before dispersing peacefully.

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Lukashenko denounced the demonstrators as "rats" and was seen in state media wearing body armour and holding a rifle as he landed at his palace.

Unofficial estimates put the number of protestors at round 200,000 while Belarus state media, now run with the help of Russian propaganda advisors after mass resignation of local staff in protest against Lukashenko, put the crowd at 20,000.

Prior to the protest, the defence ministry put out a statement warning people that it will defend World War Two memorials in the capital.

"We categorically warn: any violation of peace and order in such places - you will have the army to deal with now, not the police," it said in a statement.

Riot police was also amassed on the streets of Minsk, but there was no confrontation with protestors.

Demonstrations were triggered by Lukashenko's claims of a landslide election victory in a presidential vote that the EU said it does not recognise because of electoral fraud.

Subsequent protests were met with a police crackdown that saw nearly 7,000 people arrested, some of whom reported torture and abuse in custody, sparking yet more demonstrations.

Lukashenko's ally, Russia, accused opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya of creating disunity by generating anti-Russian sentiment and squeezing out Russian language and culture.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, on Sunday, also said her aim was for Belarus to join the EU and Nato.

Following threats to her safety, Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania earlier this month.

She has said she would like to see Belarus maintain close relations with Russia, but that Belarus should remain independent and not integrate further with its giant eastern neighbour, Reuters reported.

Diverting attention

For his part, Lukashenko again accused "foreign powers" of organising a build-up of troops on the country's border.

He said troops in Poland and Lithuania were readying themselves, that he had put the military on "high alert", and was moving forces to the country's western border.

Nato said it posed "no threat to Belarus or any other country" and had "no military build-up in the region".

"The regime is trying to divert attention from Belarus's internal problems at any cost with totally baseless statements about imaginary external threats," Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda also told the French AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, in Lithuania, up to 50,000 people, including Nauseda, formed a human chain from the capital Vilnius to the Belarusian border in solidarity with the Minsk protestors.

The rally came on the 31st anniversary of the famous Baltic Way protest, when millions formed a human chain of over 600 km through Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, to express their desire for independence from the Soviet Union.

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