Lukashenko Under Pressure as Rival Protests Planned in Minsk

Lukashenko Under Pressure as Rival Protests Planned in MinskLukashenko Under Pressure as Rival Protests Planned in Minsk

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko was under growing pressure on Sunday with rival protests due to converge on the capital a week after a contested presidential election that has thrown his country into turmoil.
Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, has faced down a week of street demonstrations and refused demands for a re-run of an election protesters say was massively rigged to disguise the fact that he has lost public support. He denies losing, citing official results that gave him over 80% of the vote, Euronews reported.
Often emotional in state TV appearances, the 65-year-old leader has alleged a foreign-backed plot to topple him. He has also cited promised military support from Russian President Vladimir Putin if necessary, something the Kremlin has not confirmed.
Russia, which has had a troubled relationship with Lukashenko, is watching closely as Belarus hosts pipelines that carry Russian energy exports to the West and is also viewed by Moscow as a buffer zone against NATO.
The EU is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Belarus in response to a violent crackdown in which at least two protesters have been killed and thousands detained. Protesters show no signs of backing down.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s opposition rival in the contested election, has called for a huge “March of Freedom” through the center of Minsk, the Belarusian capital, starting at 1100 GMT on Sunday.
Like previous protests, it is expected to culminate on Independence Square outside the main government building.
Just two hours before that, at 0900 GMT, Lukashenko’s supporters are expected to hold a pro-government rally in central Minsk, setting the stage for potential confrontation between the two groups.
Metal fencing around Independence Square was being installed on Sunday morning with agricultural vehicles used to close off nearby roads.
Opposition media channels say Lukashenko, a onetime manager of a Soviet-era collective farm, plans to bus people in from other parts of the country and that they will be coerced into attending. Reuters could not independently confirm that.
Videos on social media showed long columns of buses with pro-Lukashenko supporters onboard driving toward Minsk from various regions.

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