Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Tens of thousands of people rally against Lukashenko in Belarus

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has made a show of defiance against the massive protests demanding his resignation, toting a rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest as he strode off a helicopter that landed at his residence while demonstrators massed nearby.

In the 15th day of the largest and most determined protests ever in Belarus, a crowd of about 200,000 rallied on Sunday against Lukashenko in a square in the capital of Minsk, defying warnings.

They then marched to another rally and approached the Independence Palace, the president's working residence.

Video from the state news agency Belta showed a government helicopter landing on the grounds and Lukashenko getting off holding what appeared to be a Kalashnikov-type automatic rifle.

No ammunition clip was visible in the weapon, suggesting that Lukashenko aimed only to make a show of aggression.

The streets surrounding Independence Square turned red and white as demonstrators carried flags symbolising their opposition to Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.

Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen, reporting from Minsk, said there was "quite a festive atmosphere" at the "huge rally", with the crowds singing and shouting slogans for Lukashenko to leave office "while the authorities kept ordering them to leave the square".

Lukashenko has previously dispatched riot police to disperse rallies that erupted after he claimed a sixth presidential term in an August 9 election that critics say was rigged.

Officials on Sunday warned Belarusians against participating in "illegal demonstrations" and local news outlets published videos on social media showing water cannon and riot police with shields moving towards Independence Square.

The defence ministry, meanwhile, said it would intervene to protect World War II memorials, which it described as "sacred places", and four metro stations in central Minsk were closed.

"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. "We, soldiers, will not allow these places to be desecrated, there can be no fascism there!"


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