Tens of thousands rally at fresh protest in Minsk over Belarus election

23 August 2020, 13:24

Protesters gather in Minsk today
Protesters gather in Minsk today. Picture: Getty

By Asher McShane

Tens of thousands of people have marched on government buildings in the centre of Minsk today demanding President Alexander Lukashenko resigns after 26 years in power.

The protest was growing in the city's Independence Square today after the election weeks ago saw Mr Lukashenko win a sixth term in office in a landslide victory.

The result of the controversial election has been disputed and there have been shocking accounts of police brutality against protesters.

Protesters in the centre of Minsk after the controversial election
Protesters in the centre of Minsk after the controversial election. Picture: PA

Mr Lukashenko has been accused of stealing victory in the election on August 9. His victory prompted mass protests and civil unrest and there were further scenes today of crowds massing in cities to protest against his leadership.

Authorities in Belarus have blocked more than 50 news media websites reporting on how the country has been shaken by two weeks of protests demanding that authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko resign after 26 years in power.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported the shutdowns on Saturday, which included sites for the US-funded Radio Liberty and Belsat, a Polish-funded satellite TV channel focusing on neighbouring Belarus.

On Friday, the state publishing house stopped printing two top independent newspapers, the Narodnaya Volya and Komsomolskaya Pravda, citing an equipment malfunction.

Protests unprecedented in Belarus for their size and duration broke out after the August 9 presidential election, which election officials say handed Mr Lukashenko a sixth term in office in a landslide.

Protesters allege the official results are fraudulent and are calling for Mr Lukashenko to resign.

Police responded harshly in the first days of the protests, arresting some 7,000 people and beating many of them.

But the police crackdown only widened the scope of the protests, and anti-government strikes have been called at some of the country's main factories, former bases of support for Mr Lukashenko.

Some police have posted videos of themselves burning their uniforms and quitting.

In an enormous show of defiance, an estimated 200,000 protesters rallied on August 16 in the capital, Minsk. It is expected that today's demonstration could match that size.

Mr Lukashenko's main election challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has called for another massive show of opposition at a protest on Sunday.

"We are closer than ever to our dream," she said in a video message from Lithuania, where she took refuge after the election.

Some previous presidential challengers in Belarus have been jailed for years.

On Saturday, hundreds of women dressed in white formed a chain in Minsk as sign of protest and a larger demonstration was expected in the evening.