Belarusian protesters are due to stage a march on October 18 against the authoritarian rule of Alyaksandr Lukashenka despite a threat by the authorities to open fire on demonstrators.
Belarus has been rocked by protests since Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared the winner of the country’s August 9 election amid allegations of widespread vote-rigging.
His top rival, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was forced to flee to Lithuania after the vote, which supporters and others say she won, amid threats to her and her family.
Tsikhanouskaya and her supporters stepped their pressure this week as she called on Lukashenka to step down by October 25 or face a nationwide strike.
The EU and United States have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate ruler of Belarus.
On October 17, dozens of women marched through the streets of Minsk, with the human rights group Vyasna reporting that more than 30 people were taken away by police.
Thousands of protesters are planning to stage a march in the capital, Minsk, on October 18, keeping up a series of demonstrations held every Sunday for the past two months that have drawn tens of thousands of people.
The march comes just days after authorities threatened to fire on protesters to break up demonstrations against Lukashenka.
Belarus’s First Deputy Interior Minister Gennady Kazakevich on October 12 warned that security forces “will use special equipment and lethal weapons if need be.”
Security forces have so far only acknowledged using water cannons, rubber bullets, and stun grenades to disperse the protesters.
Kazakevich claimed that protests had become “extremely radical.”
His statement was the first time authorities have explicitly threatened to use firearms against opposition demonstrators.
The use of lethal weapons and live ammunition would mark a major escalation in the two-month standoff between Lukashenka and protesters, who have staged peaceful rallies against his disputed reelection in August and against the abuse and torture of detainees.