Tens of thousands protest in Belarus as calls for Lukashenko to resign continue

Tens of thousands were out to protest.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered on Sunday in the capital of Belarus, demanding the resignation of the country's authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

The latest protests marked the beginning of the fourth week of daily protests after an election they call rigged gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office.

The protest at the “hero city” monument honouring Minsk’s suffering and resilience in World War II attracted at least 100,000 people, according to the Nexta messaging app channel that is a main medium for the opposition.

Wide protests began after the August 9 presidential election that officials say gave President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide 80% win over his main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a former teacher and the wife of a popular jailed blogger.

A woman kneels in front of a riot police line as they block Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the centre of Minsk. Credit: AP

Mr Lukashenko, in office since 1994, has been defiant but beleaguered, unable to put down the largest, most sustained wave of protests yet in the eastern European nation of 9.5 million people.

He has refused to rerun the election, which both the European Union and the United States have said was not free or fair, and refused offers to help mediate the situation from Baltic nations.

Mr Lukashenko said he had reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Belarus's neighbour will send in security help if asked.

Alexander Lukashenko is known as 'Europe's last dictator'. Credit: AP

But Russia has appeared hesitant to get involved deeply in the Belarus unrest.

Mr Putin and Mr Lukashenko talked by phone on Sunday, but a Kremlin statement gave few details of the conversation, other than noting that the Russia president congratulated the Belarusian leader on his 66th birthday.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the election because of concerns about her security, gave a withering acknowledgement of the birthday. 

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is the main opposition candidate Credit: AP

“I wish him to overcome his fears, look truth in the eye, listen to the voice of the people and go away,” she told the Associated Press by telephone from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

Mr Lukashenko has consistently blamed Western countries for encouraging the protests and contends that NATO is repositioning forces along Belarus' western border with the aim of intervening in the unrest, a claim the alliance strongly denies.

On Sunday, the Belarusian Defence Ministry said it was conducting military exercises in the Grodno region, near the borders of Poland and Lithuania, simulating defending against an invasion.

Protesters lie on the ground in front of riot police line blocking Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the centre of Minsk. Credit: AP

Belarus on Saturday cracked down hard on foreign news media that have been covering the protests, deporting at least four Russian journalists.

The government also revoked the accreditation of many Belarusian journalists working for foreign new agencies.