İrem UZUN -TDO- Tens of thousands of protesters demanding Belarussian 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.
The vast square outside the parliament was turned into a sea of red and white by protesters waving the traditional Belarusian flag adopted by the protest movement and chanting “resign!” and “put Lukashenko in a police van!”. Unofficial estimates put the crowd at 150,000 people or more.
Calling the marchers as "rats", Lukashenko has ordered the military into full combat readiness in the face of the biggest challenge to his 26-year rule of the ex-Soviet state. As protesters marched across the city, a helicopter flew low over one part of the crowd toward Lukashenko’s working residence. Footage later released on a social media channel close to Lukashenko’s press service showed the president, clad all in black and holding a rifle, observing the protests from inside the helicopter. “They’ve run away like rats,” he said, as he ordered the pilot to move closer.
Shortly after landing at his working residence, he ventured outside to congratulate a cordon of riot police, who applauded Lukashenko. One of them could be heard to say “We are with you to the end”.