MINSK -- Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has called on leaders of other countries to attend this week’s military parade in Minsk marking the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II.
The Belarusian capital is preparing for its annual Victory Day parade on May 9, despite the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call on the country’s authorities to impose social-distancing measures and avoid large public gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"I am publicly calling on leaders of other countries, at least countries of the former [Soviet] Union, to gather in Minsk, which is the right thing to do," Lukashenka said on May 5, rejecting Russian media reports criticizing the Belarusian leader over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak as “lies.”
Belarus currently has more than 18,350 registered coronavirus cases, including 107 deaths, but Lukashenka has publicly dismissed concerns about the dangers of the disease several times.
Victory Day commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 and is the most important national holiday in Belarus and other former Soviet states.
Belarus and Turkmenistan are the only two former Soviet republics that have not canceled their traditional Victory Day parade this year.
Also on May 5, Belarusian lawmakers approved a bill on a mass amnesty marking the 75th anniversary.
Interior Minister Yury Karayeu told parliament that the bill envisioned the early release of 5,372 inmates.
Prison terms of almost 6,500 convicts will be cut by one year, he said.
The May 9 parade in Minsk is expected to include more than 3,000 military personnel and more than 180 pieces of military hardware.
Thousands of citizens are expected to line up to watch the hour-long parade, which is often followed by picnics and other activities at public locations such as parks.
Belarus lost about a quarter of its population during World War II.