Lukashenko, who turned 66 on Sunday, is struggling to contain weeks of protests and strikes since winning an August 9 election his opponents say was rigged. He denies electoral fraud and has said the protests are backed from abroad.

Law enforcement officers block a street during a rally of opposition supporters protesting against presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, August 30, 2020.
Law enforcement officers block a street during a rally of opposition supporters protesting against presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, August 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Tens of thousands of Belarus protesters joined an opposition rally in Minsk in the latest mass protest against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Despite a heavy security force presence, which prevented many lines of people from reaching the main crowd, protesters packed the centre of the Belarusian capital with crowds waving the opposition's red and white flag and chanting "Leave" and "Happy Birthday, you rat" on Sunday. 

Belarus had a white-red-white flag for a brief period in the early 1990s and it has become a symbol of its anti-government protests.

Passing cars honked their horns in solidarity. Some women lay down in protest in front of a cordon of helmeted security forces.

Opposition supporters rally to protest against disputed presidential election results in Minsk on August 30, 2020.
Opposition supporters rally to protest against disputed presidential election results in Minsk on August 30, 2020. (AFP)

Protesters then converged on Lukashenko's residence, which was guarded by security forces carrying shields, and water cannon and prisoner vans.

A column of armoured military vehicles was seen driving towards the city centre, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

Many protesters brandished placards mocking the veteran leader on the occasion of his 66th birthday, some carrying a coffin decorated with a cockroach.

Others confronted the anti-riot police, shouting at them to get out of the way.

Lukashenko, who turned 66 on Sunday, is struggling to contain weeks of protests and strikes since winning an August 9 election his opponents say was rigged. He denies electoral fraud and has said the protests are backed from abroad.

Police made scores of arrests from the start of the protest in the early afternoon, bundling people into prisoner vans. At least 125 people were detained, Russia's RIA news agency quoted the Interior Ministry as saying. 

Some protesters resisted arrest by what appeared to be plain-clothes officers, a witness said. Security didn't resort to tear gas or rubber bullets however as they did at previous marches protesting against the August 9 election, which the opposition claims was rigged.

READ MORE: Belarusian police detain dozens of people to disperse protests in Minsk 

Images of protests in other towns, such as Brest and Grodno, were circulated by the opposition.

On the two preceding Sundays, an estimated 100,000 people marched through the streets of Minsk, defying an official ban.

Birthday call from Putin 

Russian President Vladimir Putin used a birthday phone call to invite Lukashenko to visit Moscow, a sign of the Kremlin's willingness to back Lukashenko as he grapples with the unrest and the threat of new Western sanctions.

Earlier on Sunday, video footage shared by local media showed women dressed in traditional dress laying several pumpkins in front of the main government building, a folk custom intended to signal the rejection of a suitor.

One of the country's largest mobile operators, A1, said it had reduced the capacity of mobile internet bandwidth at the government's request.

Belarus is Russia's closest ex-Soviet ally and its territory is an integral part of Moscow's European defence strategy. Nevertheless, Lukashenko is seen in Moscow as a prickly partner.

In the biggest sign yet of Russia's willingness to intervene to prop up Lukashenko, Putin said on Thursday the Kremlin had set up a "reserve police force" at Lukashenko's request, although it would be deployed only if necessary.

READ MORE: Belarus, Russia agree to unite troops as EU rejects intervention

"It was agreed to hold a meeting in Moscow in the coming weeks," the Kremlin said in a statement after the leaders' call on Sunday.

The European Union is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Belarus. Lukashenko, who has been in office for 26 years, threatened on Friday to cut off European transit routes across his country in retaliation. 

READ MORE: EU foreign ministers agree on Belarus sanctions 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies