‘We Simply Need Him to Depart’: Protests Persist Towards Belarus’s Chief

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MINSK, Belarus – One day after President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus promised to hold the protests that have erupted since his rebirth with an iron fist knock down – This month tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Minsk on Sunday to show their determination to force him out of office.

After a week of rallies and publicity stunts in support of Mr. Lukashenko, who has headed the former Soviet Republic of Belarus since 1994, many expected the protests against him to subside. But by late Sunday afternoon, a sea of ​​people had filled the main independence street in central Minsk, blocking all traffic there and in the side streets.

Some estimates assume that well over 100,000 demonstrators had repeated a similar rally a week earlier.

Although Mr Lukashenko declared a landslide victory and 80 percent of the vote in the August 9 elections, protesters and international bodies, including the European Union, have called it fraudulent. The main opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, also declared victory and fled to neighboring Lithuania for fear for her safety.

Initial protests against the results were violently suppressed by Mr. Lukashenko's robust law enforcement apparatus, including beatings and mass detention. Despite the presence of riot police parked near the demonstrations, no arrests or clashes were reported on Sunday, although Mr Lukashenko told a supporter rally in the city of Grodno that weekend that the demonstrators had until Monday to calm down.

Much of Sunday's protests were wrapped in the traditional white and red flag of Belarus, which became a symbol of the opposition after Mr. Lukashenko replaced it with a Soviet-looking emblem shortly after he came to power. Some came with the one used by Mr Lukashenko's supporters – an attempt to show that the country is united in a desire to remove him from office.

"I don't care what flag it is, we just want him to go," said Darya O. Rolya, 28, an accountant.

It was unclear how the demonstrators managed to achieve this goal, and Mr. Lukashenko had repeatedly pointed out that he had no intention of submitting to pressure from the streets.

"We had elections," he told a crowd of workers last Monday. "Until you kill me there will be no more elections."

Last week, Mr. Lukashenko urged his supporters to gather around the flag. He made a series of statements about an impending invasion from the west and an internal conspiracy to destabilize Belarus. He accused the protesters of being against Russia – an important ally – and called them "rats" and "garbage". On Sunday, some protesters waved the Russian flag to show they don't want their country to turn away from Moscow.

Some of Mr. Lukashenko's allegations appeared to be drawn to the attention of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Who is suspicious of anti-Russian protests in former Soviet republics? On Saturday, Mr Lukashenko thanked Mr Putin and called him a friend the day after he confirmed he had invited several Russian journalists to replace the Belarusians who quit state news media this month in protest against censorship.

Some demonstrators said they had made a significant contribution by exceeding the turnout at Mr Lukashenko's rallies, but it would be difficult to put more pressure on the president.

One of them, Aleksandr I. Potekhin, said the protests needed a leader.

"A crowd can't do much on its own," said 30-year-old civil engineer Potekhin. "I think something more radical is needed to achieve our goals, but people are scared of it."

Many factory workers in Minsk turned out on Sunday but said they were under increased pressure to refrain from the strikes that were staged in state factories as protests continued.

"This situation is forcing us Belarusians to unite," said Igor Y. Andryushko, 37, a worker at Minsk Tractor Works, one of the main locations where workers are protesting. "I don't want it to take a violent turn. I think everything will end peacefully."

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