Defying a security services crackdown, tens of thousands of protesters demanding that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko step down engulfed the center of Minsk once again.
This time on the occasion of the now 66-year old leader's birthday on Sunday, tens of thousands were seen marching on the presidential residence.
There he is again, its Sunday-Kalaschnikow-Time for Lukaschenko. Picture is from his office, released just now. pic.twitter.com/JG8ZD2pfEa— Paul Ronzheimer (@ronzheimer) August 30, 2020
Riot police, armored vehicles, and even tanks were seen defending Lukashenko's residence. Military tanks and personnel carriers were seen pouring into the area, based on activist footage on the ground.
#Belarus. There are numerous reports that infantry fighting vehicles are heading to the #Minsk city centre.People are now not far from the riot police cordon near Lukashenko's residence. They are aboslutely peaceful. They brought birthday “gifts” that they leave near the cordon. pic.twitter.com/NNxomWOgon— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) August 30, 2020
Multiple correspondents observing the protests said tanks were en route to protect the residence.
Specifically Belarusian military BMP-2 Infantry Fighting Vehicles were spotted rolling down highways, making their way toward Independence Palace.
Stunning video also showed a massive crowd being held off just outside the presidential compound by a wall of riot police, military, and armored vehicles.
A large crowd is massing outside Lukashenka’s residence in Minsk, blocked from going further by a phalanx of riot police. Video reports suggest tanks are heading to the residence, apparently to shore up its defenses. pic.twitter.com/4rZu7NT2Lk— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) August 30, 2020
And more videos being widely circulated:
Belarusian protests channels are posting a video of what look like infantry fighting vehicles heading into central Minsk. This could a serious escalation. https://t.co/qUkfA0deUg pic.twitter.com/eRMlOqYT2L— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) August 30, 2020
Reuters reports that despite the major show of force by state security, the demonstrations were relatively peaceful:
Protesters then converged on Lukashenko's residence, which was guarded by security forces carrying shields, and water canon and prisoner vans. A column of armoured military vehicles was seen driving towards the city centre, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.
Russia's RIA news agency said at least 125 people were detained.
Security forces were seen detaining people in black unmarked police vans.
In some cases, plain clothes officers were spotted arresting protesters, after rolling protests and nation-wide strikes have paralyzed parts of the country, especially the capital, since the Aug.9 disputed reelection of Lukashenko to a sixth term, which the opposition and people in the streets have denounced as "rigged".
Meanwhile, citing external threats from NATO countries, Lukashenko has reportedly put up to half the army in 'combat readiness' mode, Reuters reports Sunday.
“(NATO) have launched exercises right by our borders. What am I supposed to do? I also rolled out some divisions, put half the army into combat preparedness mode. That’s not cheap,” Lukashenko announced.