Tens of thousands march in Belarus capital despite crackdown

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched through Minsk Sunday, calling for an end to strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s rule amid a heavy security presence and despite dozens of arrests.

Belarus protests have entered a third week since the disputed presidential election on August 9 in which Lukashenko claimed victory.

Opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she was the true winner, meanwhile.

An AFP journalist and local media estimated that more than 100,000 people attended Sunday’s protest, equalling the scale of rallies on previous weekends, the largest in the country since independence from the former USSR.

A crowd gathered outside Lukashenko’s official residence, the Palace of Independence, which was guarded by riot police and special forces personnel backed up by rooftop snipers.

Sunday’s rally came on Lukashenko’s 66th birthday and protesters carried quirky handmade “gifts” including a cardboard toilet with a sign urging the strongman to flush himself away, a coffin marked “Political corpse” and a picture of a cockroach, the opposition’s nickname for the president.

Some laid flowers and symbolic gifts on the ground in front of a tall barrier manned by riot police equipped with helmets and shields.

This was the “boldest show of civil disobedience in three weeks of protests,” opposition newspaper Nasha Niva reported. (AFP | Tatiana Kalinovskaya)