Belarus holds Victory Day parade despite coronavirus threat

Minsk (AFP) –


Thousands of troops paraded before crowds of spectators in Minsk Saturday to mark 75 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany as Belarus held a celebration of Victory Day despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Neighbouring Russia cancelled its Victory Day parade over the pandemic and Belarus was the only ex-Soviet country with reported cases to hold the annual event.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been dismissive of the pandemic and the "psychosis" around the virus, watched in military uniform with top brass as some 4,000 troops marched past and planes and helicopters flew overhead.

Belarus has registered more than 20,000 cases of the coronavirus and 121 deaths. The World Health Organization had appealed to Minsk to find "alternative solutions" to mark the anniversary.

But the Belarusian strongman, in charge since 1994, said that "even the thought of changing the tradition... is inadmissible", and televised parade footage showed rows of elderly veterans watching the parade, many without face masks.

"We had no choice" but to mark the anniversary, as "the eyes of those Soviet soldiers who perished for our freedom are watching," Lukashenko said.

His children and grandchildren however were conspicuously absent, while normally his son Nikolai, rumoured as a potential successor, stands by his side.

Belarus was one of the first Soviet territories to be invaded by Germany on June 22, 1941, and was under occupation until August 1944, although large parts were under the control of its strong Soviet partisan resistance movement.

The country suffered huge losses, with hundreds of thousands of its Jews also killed in the Holocaust.

Central Asia's Turkmenistan was the only other ex-Soviet country to say it would mark Victory Day this year with a parade -- but it has not officially reported any coronavirus cases.