Putin passes on ‘warm wishes’ to embattled Lukashenko, as tanks are seen in Minsk amid protests

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In a phone call, Putin passed on his regards on Lukashenko’s 66th birthday, according to a statement posted on the official Kremlin website.

The statement said the pair will meet in Moscow in the “coming weeks,” adding that they have agreed on “further strengthening” relations and “expanding” cooperation between their countries.

The conversation between the two leaders came as thousands of people took to the streets of the Belarusian capital on Sunday to protest against the results of the disputed August 9 election.

For their participation in Sunday’s pro-democracy protest, 125 people were arrested, according to Russian state news agency TASS, citing Belarusian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova.

Elsewhere in the city, a video broadcast by local news outlet TUT.BY shows at least eight armored tanks moving in a convoy.

The footage comes the day after 19 Belarusian journalists had their accreditation to work for the BBC and other foreign media outlets removed by the authorities, with two Associated Press reporters being deported from the country on the same day.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) told CNN that 19 Belarusian journalists had their press licenses revoked on Saturday.

BBC and Associated Press (AP) staff were among the reporters affected by the decision.

Charlotte Morgan, the BBC’s Head of Communications, told CNN: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism.

“We call upon the Belarusian authorities to revoke this decision and allow our journalists to continue doing their jobs,” Morgan added.

AP also denounced the “blatant attack on press freedom” in a statement seen by CNN, while calling on the Belarusian government to reverse the move.

Journalists deported

The American news agency also said that two of its Moscow-based journalists who had been covering the recent protests in Belarus were deported to Russia on Saturday.

The deportations happened a few days after the Belarusian authorities detained almost 50 journalists, according to the BAJ.

'He doesn't care if we live or die': How Belarusians shed decades of fear to rattle a strongman's iron grip

Responding to the arrests, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter on Friday: “I condemn the mass detention of over 50 journalists last night in Belarus, including from @BBC, local & international media.”

Of the journalists that were detained, all except four, who refused to hand over their phones, were later released.

The EU will sanction several officials in Belarus for their alleged role in the “fraudulent” presidential election and in the subsequent clampdown against protesters, according to Josep Borrell, the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

Speaking on Friday, Borrell said: “This designation shall include individuals at the high political level.”

“We once again express our full support to Belarus’ sovereignty and independence and condemn the violent repression of the Belarusian people,” he added.

CNN’s James Frater contributed to this report.

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