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Hundreds gather in Prague, Warsaw to support Belarus protesters

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PRAGUE (Reuters) - Crowds gathered in Prague and Warsaw on Sunday to show their support for protesters in Belarus who are demanding President Alexander Lukashenko step down after what they say was his fraudulent re-election a week ago.

A large white and red Belarusian flag was placed at the centre of a heart formed by around a thousand people gathered in the Czech capital’s Old Town Square, while in Warsaw several hundred formed a kilometres-long human chain. Standing 1.5 metres from each other, they occupied four major streets in the centre of the Polish capital.

People in both cities held flags, banners bearing slogans such as “Free Belarus” or portraits of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s rival in the election.

“I came to support my nation today. I trust (they will succeed) and send them lots of kisses,” said Hana from Zhlobin in Belarus, who was in the Prague square. She declined to give her surname.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis meanwhile urged the European Union to help, recalling the crushing of Czech protests by a military invasion led by Moscow in 1968 as well as the peaceful overthrow of communism in 1989. “Belarus must not experience what we had in 1968,” he tweeted.

Russia said on Sunday it would offer Lukashenko military help if necessary. Earlier, Belarusians chanting “Step down!” had filled the centre of the capital Minsk in the biggest protest so far against his re-election a week ago.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki discussed the situation in Belarus on Sunday with Babis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel, the Polish government spokesperson said in a tweet.

The EU took the first step on Friday toward imposing new sanctions on Belarus over the disputed election and a crackdown on protests that followed, instructing its foreign policy arm to prepare a blacklist of responsible individuals.

Lukashenko, who has led Belarus for 26 years, denies electoral fraud.

Reporting by Jiri Skacel in Prague and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Writing by Robert Muller; Editing by Catherine Evans

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