Despite large numbers of security forces, more than 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Belarus for the eighth weekend in a row on Sunday for protests against long-time President Alexander Lukashenko.
On videos shared on the Telegram messaging app, thousands of people could be seen walking through the centre of Minsk in large groups.
Water cannons were used against some of the demonstrators, and several people were arrested shortly after the march had begun. Masked security forces in uniforms without insignia moved harshly against the protesters, whose rallies had been banned by authorities.
The Viasna human rights group said more than 210 people had been taken into police custody in Minsk. The Belarusian journalists’ association reported that at least three media representatives had been detained.
Belarus withdrew the accreditation of all foreign correspondents with immediate effect on Friday, making independent coverage difficult.
Observers reported that mobile internet was turned off as authorities try to prevent protesters from discussing which routes to take, and underground stations were closed to hinder access to the city centre.
Called by the Belarusian opposition, the Sunday protests usually see a large turnout; some 100,000 people had also taken part in last weekend’s gathering, when over 350 of them were arrested.
Demonstrators were asked to bring pictures of political prisoners and to march in front of detention centres.
Authorities in Belarus confirmed the death of a 41-year old prisoner, saying he was fatally injured when falling off a bunk bed. Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called this a “lie,” saying doctors diagnosed severe cranial injuries, broken ribs, bruises and several other injuries.
Protests against Lukashenko have been ongoing since disputed presidential elections on August 9, with several deaths, hundreds of injuries and more than 10,000 arrests since.
Critics say the real winner of the election was Tikhanovskaya. She is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday.
Several prominent members of the opposition are currently in detention, including leader Maria Kalesnikava, who is facing up to five years in jail on charges of endangering national security.
The protesters are calling for the release of all political prisoners, Lukashenko’s resignation and free and fair new elections.
Lukashenko was officially declared election winner with 80.1 per cent of the vote after 26 years in office. The opposition, however, says the vote was rigged and that their candidate won.