Around 5,000 people protested in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Thursday ahead of an election which could see the demise of the man dubbed "Europe's last dictator".
Thousands of people protested in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Thursday evening ahead of an election which could see the demise of the man dubbed "Europe's last dictator".
Strongman Alexander Lukashenko faces his first serious challenge in 26 years in the upcoming election on August 9, which has been marked by a crackdown on opposition candidates.
Some 5,000 protesters took to the streets waving white ribbons in the air, according to a Euronews journalist.
"I think every five years we need a new president, we need new ideas," Anton, 33, told Euronews.
"Everyone here is interested in the same thing, we want to be free."
Belarusians are largely unhappy with the electoral system, dismal economic situation, authoritarian government and Lukashenko’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
But a change in leadership may be unlikely as the country has a history of unfair elections, with opposition candidates barred even before the vote.
Viktor Babariko, was detained last month and excluded from the ballot because of a criminal case against him. Valery Tsepkalo, a former ambassador, was also rejected after signatures on a petition were nullified.
But an unlikely candidate has emerged — Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37, registered after her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, a prominent blogger, was arrested back in May.
The stay-at-home mum promises to free political prisoners and hold new, fair elections in six months if elected.
Many at Thursday's protest chanted her name in support.
Ahead of the protest, a government concert was underway. But the song "I want changes" by Viktar Tsoi, which is seen as the post-Soviet anthem and the soundtrack of the opposition came on.
Hundreds of anti-government protesters have been arrested over the past few weeks.
"It is the first illegal (protest) of this size, it is important to show we are not afraid," Valery, 31, told Euronews.
"I have friends who have been arrested for not doing anything... One friend brought food for people and got arrested for nothing.
"There is no freedom of speech," he said.
No arrests have been reported so far.