Belarusian protesters, defying army, flood Minsk
Tens of thousands of protesters demanding Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko step down defied a warning from the military on Sunday and flooded into Minsk, briefly gathering near the president's residence, before dispersing peacefully.
Libby Hogan reports.
Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets in the Belarusian capital on Sunday (August 23) in red and white, carrying flags, demanding leader Alexander Lukashenko to step down.
They defied a warning that they could face the military, who were stationed around World War Two memorials.
Minister of Defence, Victor Khrenin: "We categorically warn: any violation of peace and order in such places - you will have the army to deal with now, not the police." The protests have been the biggest challenge to Lukashenko's rule of more than 26 years in office.
Protesters say his recent landslide election victory - was rigged.
Maria Kolesnikova, one of the opposition, addressed the demonstrators: "Our resistance is a marathon, the regime cannot deal with this marathon.
We should all write, go out, speak out, stand up, complain, be uncooperative, boycott, not agree and keep it up!" The crowds marched forward, gathering outside the president's residence at the Independence Palace the first time they've approached the building's doors.
Looming overhead, a video by state media showed Lukashenko flying in a helicopter over the protests, before landing at his residence clad in body armor with a rifle in hand.
And applause from security forces in a later video.
The crowd began to disperse in the early evening.
Reuters witnessed no clashes with police.
Meanwhile, traditional ally Russia, issued its strongest comments yet aimed at opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
After Lukashenko's claims of victory - she fled to neighbouring Lithuania following threats to her safety.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described her political agenda as destabilizing, and creating disunity by generating anti-Russian sentiment.
But earlier on Saturday Tsikhanouskaya told Reuters she would not step away from her mission, calling for new presidential elections.
She said she would like to see Belarus maintain close relations with Russia, but that Belarus should remain independent.