Tens of thousands of Belarusians gathered in Minsk to protest against disputed elections that declared President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term in office.
The “March for Freedom” came amid the growing descent and anger against Lukashenko over alleged poll-rigging and police brutality against protesters.
President Lukashenko in an addressed the protesters as rats and mice.
He called on supporters to defend their country and independence.
Rival rallies took place after Russia offered security assistance to President Lukashenko incase of an external military threat. It emerged that Mr Lukashenko had twice spoken to President Vladimir Putin over the weekend.
The long-time Belarus leader also voiced concerns over Nato military exercises taking place in neighbouring Poland and Lithuania.
Nato – who sent four battle groups led by Britain, Canada, Germany and the US to the Baltic countries after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine – rejected allegations of a build-up in the region.
Mass protests erupted after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in the 9 August vote.
The Belarusian Central Elections Committee (CEC) declared that incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won 80.1% of the votes and opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.1%.
Opposition groups claim the election was marred by fraud to keep Lukashenko in power.
Opposition presidential candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s campaign said she had been polling 70-80% in some areas.
Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994.
Minsk today. People in Belarus are saying this might be the largest protest in the county’s history.pic.twitter.com/6bc6o2p0Na
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) August 16, 2020
Belarus Freedom march is the largest gathering in Belarus history! pic.twitter.com/2SwS59qfLS
— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 16, 2020