Tens of Thousands ‘March for Freedom’ in Belarus 

Rival rallies were held in the Belarusian capital of Minsk Sunday, a week after a disputed election that gave longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko another term in office. Tens of thousands of protesters questioning the legitimacy of the recent election gathered for a “March for Freedom”, called for by opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Meanwhile, thousands of supporters gathered in support of Lukashenko, who said Sunday that he would not hold new elections. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures as he greets his supporters gathered at Independent Square of Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 16, 2020.Addressing the crowd Sunday, Lukashenko denied allegations of election fraud and blamed foreign interference for days of unrest, claiming that NATO was amassing weapons 15 miles from Belarus’ borders. Belarusians have been protesting in the capital, Minsk, and other cities since election officials declared Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, winner of the August 9 election, with over 80% of the votes against the main opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, with about 9.9%. Belarusian Ambassador to Slovakia Igor Leshchenya expressed his support for protesters in an undated video published Saturday by Belarusian Nasha Niva media.   “I stand in solidarity with those who came out on the streets of Belarusian cities with peaceful marches so that their voice could be heard,” Leshchenya said in the video. “The Belarusians have achieved this right through suffering.” People hold old Belarusian national flags while gathered at the place where Alexander Taraikovsky died during clashes protesting election results, in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 15, 2020.Thousands took to the streets of Minsk again Saturday, heeding Tsikhanouskaya’s call  to supporters to rally over the weekend and press on with a movement that presents the biggest challenge to Lukashenko’s grip on power in 26 years, since 1994. Protesters also marched to the Belarusian state television center, complaining broadcasts are biased in favor Lukashenko and give a skewed image of the protests. About 100 staff members came out and joined the protest, saying they planned a strike Monday. Facing the biggest challenge to his rule under pressure to resign, Lukashenko called for help from Moscow in a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing the situation as “a threat not only to Belarus.” Lukashenko told military chiefs later in the day that Putin had offered “comprehensive help” to “ensure the security of Belarus.” The Kremlin said in a statement that both presidents agreed the “problems” in Belarus would be “resolved soon” and the countries’ ties would strengthen.   

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