Belarus Unrest: Thousands of women march calling on Lukashenko and his government to step down

Thousands of women marched in Belarus capital Minsk on Saturday waving flags, flowers and balloons in protests against President Alexander Lukashenko and the presidential elections early this month.

Women on Saturday staged what they called a march of solidarity, calling on Lukashenko and his government to step down.

“This is our city” and “you better protect us,” chanted the crowd, many of them sporting national dress.

Streets along the protest route were cordoned off by police and security troops. Rallies on a smaller scale took place in other cities and towns.

President Lukashenko, who has ruled the 9.5-million nation in Eastern Europe with an iron fist since 1994, blamed the West for fomenting demonstrations in Belarus in hopes of turning it into a “bridgehead against Russia”.

“They want to topple this government and replace it with another one that would ask a foreign country to send troops in support,” he said on Friday.

NATO has rejected previous such claims by Lukashenko.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that Lukashenko tries to conjure up the image of outside forces threatening Belarus as an excuse for his crackdown on the opposition, which has seen hundreds of protesters beaten by police.

Lukashenko has also threatened neighbours Lithuania and Poland for pushing sanctions against his government.