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Belarus: Hundreds protest in Minsk against President Lukashenko

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Hundreds gathered to give signatures in support of potential presidential candidates on Sunday
Hundreds gathered to give signatures in support of potential presidential candidates on Sunday   -   Copyright  Sergei Grits/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Hundreds of people in Minsk protested against the rule of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the largest opposition demonstration of the year.

They denounced the authoritarian rule of Lukashenko, who is seeking a sixth term in office in upcoming presidential elections.

Belarus' government and parliament have refused to postpone the elections — scheduled for August 9 — amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

President Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and opposition activists have accused him of suppressing anti-government voices and independent news media during a quarter-century in power.

But police did not intervene with the demonstrations on Sunday, ahead of the August elections.

Many protesters carried slippers as a symbol of protest leader Sergei Tikhanovsky’s call to “smash the cockroach”.

Others wore facemasks defying the president's dismissal of coronavirus concerns as a “psychosis”.

"Whenever the elections come up and the campaign starts, that's the time when people have a breath of fresh air and show up on the streets," said Katsiaryna Shmatsina, from the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies.

"The very fact that people showed up in a public space even during the time of the pandemic, risking their health, this shows that people have a strong motivation for political life and aspiration for changes to support opposition candidates".

Belarus has not imposed lockdown measures or social distancing rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, and shops, schools and public transport continue to function as normal.

Minsk previously hosted a full military parade of 3,000 soldiers on May 9 to celebrate Victory Day despite a rise in COVID-19 infections.

A World Health Organization delegation, which visited Belarus in April, has expressed concern about the lack of measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Belarus has recorded more than 36,000 cases of coronavirus infections, about 75% more than in neighbouring Ukraine, whose population is four times larger.

Residents in the country have said the President is "playing with fire and puts the lives of thousands of Belarusians in danger".

Janov Poleskij, a Belarusian political analyst, told Euronews the country's government has "no strategy at all" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our highest authorities believe that Belarus, financially and technologically, cannot afford (taking) the measures that many other countries have implemented," said Poleskij

"Hence the ignorance, the inconsistencies [of information], the unpreparedness, and the delay in the passing of necessary decisions”.

Katsiaryna Shmatsina added that there is a "general lack of trust of the official statistics" released by the Belarusian authorities.

The country's health ministry and leading epidemiologists have not responded to Euronews requests for comment.