People walk about the Nemiga district in central Minsk as the country enters its third week of peaceful protests following the August 9 contested presidential elections [Misha Friedman/Getty Images]
The situation in the Belarusian capital Minsk was tense on Sunday in the run-up to a planned mass demonstration against President Alexander Lukashenko.
Independence Square in the centre of the city was sealed off with metal barriers and guarded by security forces as the interior ministry warned citizens not to take part in the unauthorised rally.
The pro-democracy movement ignored the threats and said Lukashenko should see that people were against him as he celebrates his 66th birthday on Sunday.
The movement added that after ruling for 26 years, his time in power was up.
On the last two Sundays, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Belarus to protest against Lukashenko, who has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”.
The protests are the largest and most sustained challenge of Lukashenko’s years in office, during which he consistently repressed opposition and independent news media.
On Saturday, Belarusian authorities stripped the press accreditation of many journalists covering the anti-government protests and deported some foreign journalists.
According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, at least 17 journalists were stripped of their accreditation issued by the foreign ministry.
Among them were a video journalist and a photographer from Reuters news agency, two from the BBC and four from Radio Liberty.
In the past few days, other demonstrations were disbanded and people arrested, indicating the power apparatus might not permit a fresh mass demonstration.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressly promised Lukashenko support from his country’s security forces in what is seen as a ploy to intimidate the protest movement.
The head of state of the ex-Soviet republic was recently cheered by supporters at public appearances.
Since the controversial presidential election on August 9, a division between the supporters and opponents of the president has emerged.
The protests and strikes in state-owned enterprises that emerged afterwards are the largest since Belarus gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.