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Belarus: Tens of thousands join weekly protest against Lukashenko regime, over 100 arrested

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People march during a demonstration called by opposition movement for an end to the Lukashenko regime in Minsk on September 20, 2020.
People march during a demonstration called by opposition movement for an end to the Lukashenko regime in Minsk on September 20, 2020.   -   Copyright  TUT.BY/AFP
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Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Minsk on Sunday despite police pressure in the now weekly protests against the reelection of authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

Dressed in red and white or draped in the red and white flags of the opposition, protesters chanted "Get out!" as they marched down Victors Avenue to Independence Palace, the president's official residence in the centre of the Belarusian capital.

It mirrored similar peaceful protests taking place across Belarus on Sunday.

Protests have swept the country since the contested results of the presidential election on August 9 handed Lukashenko a landslide victory after 26 years in power.

In the wake of the election, which opposition leaders have said was rigged, Lukashenko has tried to suppress unrest with mass arrests, including opposition figures.

Others, including Lukashenko's main opponent in the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, have gone into exile.

According to human rights group Viasna, over a hundred people were arrested by security forces throughout the day. At least 80 people were detained in Minsk. At least another 47 were arrested at regional protests, it said, in Gomel, Brest and Grodno where thousands more had taken to the streets.

Police arrested over 400 at a women's march in Minsk and 15 other cities on Saturday, according to the Belarusian interior ministry. Nina Baginskaya, a 73-year-old who has become an icon of the anti-government protests, was also arrested but quickly released.

Images showed police officers unceremoniously carry some protesters to waiting prison vans.

In a video statement released on Saturday from Lithuania where she took refuge after the election, Tsikhanouskaya praised the protesters.

"They have frightened and put pressure on women for the second month, but despite this, Belarusians are continuing their peaceful protest and showing their amazing fortitude," she said.

Tsikhanouskaya is due to meet with European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, where sanctions are expected to be agreed on Belarusian figures believed to be responsible for electoral fraud and police violence.

Lukashenko's regime has imprisoned many opposition leaders involved with the Coordination Council set up by Tsikhanouskaya in the aftermath of the election.

One of her closest allies, Maria Kolesnikova, who worked on her election campaign, refused to be driven out of the country. She has been jailed accused of "actions aimed at undermining Belarusian national security."

As well as chanting "Get out!" and "Game over" about Lukashenko, protesters on Sunday also directed their ire towards Russian president Vladimir Putin who has voiced his support for the embattled Belarusian president.

At a summit between the two leaders in Sochi, Russia, on September 15, Putin agreed to give a €1.2 billion loan to what he called Russia's "closest ally."