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Huge crowds gather on streets of Minsk as Belarus opposition keeps up pressure on Lukashenko to leave office (VIDEOS)

Sources on the ground say the crowd numbers in the tens of thousands, with the opposition estimating there are over 100,000 participants. Protesters gathered earlier in the city’s Independence Square for a minutes silence in memory of those killed during clashes with law enforcement agencies during earlier rallies.

The demonstrators then marched north toward the Planeta hotel, which is located not far from the site of last week’s rally, which was unprecedented in its size. The protest has remained peaceful, with police monitoring the situation. Ahead of the march, authorities, said they feared ‘provocations’ during the event.

In addition to Minsk, rallies are being held in other large cities across the country. Hundreds of people took to the streets in Brest, Mogilev and Vitebsk. Meanwhile, in Grodno, thousands gathered at the central square.

The opposition in Belarus accuses Lukashenko of rigging the election, which was held on August 9 and officially resulted in a landslide victory for the incumbent. Protests first erupted that night as the initial results came in and were met with a heavy police crackdown. The approach backfired after images of police brutality on social media resulted in increased sympathy for the opposition.

Lukashenko defended the heavy-handed response, later describing the excessive use of force as “mistakes” that should be forgiven. He claimed that his critics seek to remove him on behalf of Western nations seeking to draw Belarus away from Russia, similar to the previous experience in Ukraine. He cited a program published on the website of exiled opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya last week as evidence.

The opposition has denied harboring anti-Russian sentiments and said that the now-removed text didn’t represent her policy. On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced concern over the suspicious episode, saying the text was full of “statements and slogans of unconstructive and definitely provocative nature.

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