Belarus protests: President wields rifle, body armor to show defiance

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Aug. 24 (UPI) — Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko posted a video of himself in riot gear, showing defiance amid protests against his contested election entering their third week.

On Sunday, more than 100,000 people rallied against him for the second weekend in a row, and the army warned that it would deal with any protesters who got close to WWII memorials. As the protest were winding down in Minsk, Lukashenko’s press service posted a series of videos.

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In the videos, Lukashenko was seen looking down on the city from a helicopter wearing a bulletproof vest, and getting out of the helicopter at the palace wielding a Kalashnikov-style rifle, and accompanied by armed soldiers. He was also accompanied by his son Koyla, 15, also armed and wearing a military uniform.

Belarus’ capital city of Minsk has been at the center of protests since Aug. 10, when protesters took to the streets in opposition to results from the election the previous day, when Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 26 years, won a sixth term with 80% of the vote. Opponents say the Aug. 9 election was fraudulent and rigged, and opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has rejected the results.

Protesters are demanding a new presidential poll with support from international critics, including the ruling body of the European Union, the European Council, saying its does not recognize the results, and determining last week that the election was “neither free nor fair.”

Ahead of the election, Belarus authorities arrested 33 alleged Russian mercenaries on suspicion of terrorism with an accusation that they were trying to “destabilize” the country’s electoral process.

Lukashenko has blamed the West for inciting the protests.

On Monday morning, authorities detained three opposition leaders, including Sergei Dylevksy, Olga Kovalkova and Alexander Lavrinovich, on administrative charges of organizing unsanctioned protests, which carry a fine, police said, according to local media reports.

In the first few days of protests, Belarus authorities arrested more than 6,000 demonstrators, with Lukashenko’s opponents saying police have used violence to quell the protests.

Lukashenko told protesters last week he would not allow new elections.