Belarus protests: Opposition keeps up pressure on Lukashenko

Putin, Lukashenko to talk 'integration' amid Belarus protests

Protesters join a women's march in support of the opposition in central Minsk on 12 September.

The Interfax Russian news agency reported that shots had been fired into the air to warn off protesters in an area of Minsk where the Belarusian leadership lives.

"Tell me who your friends are and I will say who you are", read another that bore photos of Lukashenko and Putin.

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of the Belarusian capital on Sunday heading towards the Palace of Independence to demonstrate against the results of the August presidential election.

The new mass demonstration was called on the eve of talks between Lukashenko and his main ally, Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Political analysts have said that the Kremlin might seek to exploit Lukashenko's political vulnerability to wring concessions from him.

Some beat saucepans with ladles and others chanted "Bring back our Masha", referring to opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova by her diminutive name. Several dozen people scattered into neighbouring courtyards, and security forces eventually cornered one group of protesters, and conducted at least 10 arrests.

It comes as Lukashenko has vowed that he will not give up power to the opposition, which claims its candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was the rightful victor of the August 9 polls.

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The statement added that the agreement will facilitate smooth and prompt provision of supplies and services between the two sides. I deeply cherish our long association.

"Over the past month we have become a truly heroic people", Tikhanovskaya, a political unknown until the election, said in a video address. She has taken shelter in Lithuania after coming under official pressure.

Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, has vowed that he will not give up power to the opposition, which claims its candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was the rightful victor of the August 9 polls.

There's a risk "Russia will turn the most friendly neighbor they have into a population that sees them as an accessory to Lukashenko and his authoritarianism", said Nigel Gould-Davies, a former United Kingdom ambassador to Belarus who's now senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Speaking to reporters, Biegun also asked how Moscow could "back such a regime and such violence against peaceful citizens".

Putin and Lukashenko are set to meet in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday, with the Kremlin saying the talks will cover integration plans as well as key trade and energy projects.

The countries have a union agreement envisaging close political, economic and military ties, although Lukashenko has repeatedly expressed concerns that Putin wants Russian Federation to absorb Belarus entirely.

The United States, Switzerland, and the European Union have expressed support for protesters in a joint statement and condemned Belarusian officers' "brutal and disproportionate use of force".

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