About 100,000 demonstrators marched in the Belarusian capital calling for the authoritarian president’s ouster, some wearing cardboard crowns to ridicule him, on Sunday as the protests that have rocked the country marked their 50th consecutive day.
Protests also took place in nine other cities, underlining the wide extent of dismay and anger with President Alexander Lukashenko, who has stifled opposition and independent news media during 26 years in power.
At least 200 people were detained, the interior ministry said.
Some dubbed the protest a “people’s inauguration” of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main opponent who fled into exile after the Aug. 9 election that Lukashenko’s opponents say was blatantly rigged to hand Lukashenko a sixth term.
Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and was inaugurated on Wednesday in a ceremony held without any prior announcement, sparking more protests and condemnation from the European Union, the United States and Britain.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in comments in the French press Lukashenko must step aside.
“We are witnessing a power crisis in Belarus with an authoritarian administration that is not able to accept the logic of democracy,” Macron told le Journal du Dimanche in comments published on Sunday.
“It is clear that Lukashenko must go.”
Lukashenko retorted that, under Macron’s logic, the French leader should have resigned two years ago when the “yellow vest” protest for economic justice began and that mass demonstrations had become commonplace in France.
He offered to help negotiate a peaceful transfer of power between Macron and those protesting against the French authorities.
“As an experienced politician – to an immature one – I want to advise Mr. Macron to look around less, and instead finally deal with the internal affairs of France,” Lukashenko was quoted by the official Belta news agency as saying.
Russia said the EU’s decision not to recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president contradicted international law and amounted to indirect meddling in the country.
Buoyed by the support from traditional ally Russia, the 66-year-old Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm manager who has been in power for over a quarter of a century, shows no inclination to resign.
Riot police pulled people out of crowds and hauled them away into vans, a Reuters witness said. Several metro stations were shut and the mobile internet disrupted. Some protesters wore fake crowns to mock Lukashenko’s inauguration.
A group of anonymous hackers has started leaking the personal data of police officers in retaliation for the crackdown on protests since the election.
On Sunday, it released another batch of data from more than 1,000 police stationed in Gomel in revenge for the treatment of the protesters there.
The Belarusian government typically releases the data for the total number of people arrested on the day after a protest.
Police detained 150 people during protests on Saturday, the interior ministry said.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei on Saturday accused western countries preparing to impose new sanctions on Minsk of attempting to sow “chaos and anarchy”.