Russian President Vladimir Putin used a birthday phone call on Sunday Aug. 30 to invite Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to visit Moscow, a Kremlin show of support as thousands of protesters streamed into central Minsk demanding Lukashenko step down.
President Lukashenko, who turned 66 on Sunday, is struggling to contain three weeks of protests and strikes since winning an Aug. 9 election that his opponents say was rigged. He denies electoral fraud and has said the protests are backed from abroad.
Belarus is Russia’s closest ex-Soviet ally and its territory is an integral part of Moscow’s European defense strategy. Nevertheless, Lukashenko is seen in Moscow as a prickly ally.
Thousands of people, many waving red-and-white opposition flags and chanting “long live Belarus,” marched towards Minsk’s Independence Square, which was cordoned off by police in anticipation of the protest.
Passing cars honked their horns in solidarity with the protesters. Police detained at least a dozen people, an eyewitness said. Other protesters were seen resisting arrest by what appeared to be plain-clothes officers.
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In This Story: Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko or Alyaksandr Ryhoravich Lukashenka is a Belarusian politician, who has served as president of Belarus since the establishment of the office 26 years ago, on 20 July 1994.
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In This Story: Belarus
Belarus, officially the Republic of Belarus and formerly known as Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk.
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In This Story: Moscow
Moscow, on the Moskva River in western Russia, is the nation’s cosmopolitan capital. In its historic core is the Kremlin, a complex that’s home to the president and tsarist treasures in the Armoury. Outside its walls is Red Square, Russia’s symbolic center. It’s home to Lenin’s Mausoleum, the State Historical Museum’s comprehensive collection and St. Basil’s Cathedral, known for its colorful, onion-shaped domes.
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In This Story: Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a Russian politician and a former officer of the KGB who has served as President of Russia since 2012, previously holding the position from 1999 until 2008. He was also the Prime Minister of Russia from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2012.
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Russia spans more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area, stretching eleven time zones, and bordering 16 sovereign nations. Moscow is the country’s capital.
The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991 and since 1993 Russia been governed as a federal semi-presidential republic. Russia is a major great power, with the world’s second-most powerful military, and the fourth-highest military expenditure. As a recognised nuclear-weapon state, the country possesses the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons.