Belarus police detains hundreds in women’s anti-Lukashenko protest in Minsk

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Belarusian riot police detained hundreds of women on Saturday as around 2,000 opposition protesters marched through the Belarusian capital Minsk demanding an end to President Alexander Lukashenko’s rule.

Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, has been rocked by mass street protests since Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in an August 9 presidential election that his opponents say was rigged. He denies their accusation.

Around 2,000 women took part in the “Sparkly March”, wearing shiny accessories and carrying the red-and-white flags of the protest movement.

They briefly scuffled with police who then blocked their path and started picking people one by one out of the crowd, a Reuters witness said. The police then began dragging them into police vans as they stood with linked hands, swiftly detaining several hundred, an AFP journalist saw.

‘Only cowards beat women!’

In one location, dozens of female protesters could be seen encircled by men in green uniforms and black balaclavas outside a shopping mall as they shouted, “Only cowards beat women!”

The march was the latest in a series of all-women protests calling for the strongman to leave following his disputed victory in elections last month. 

His opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya also claimed the victory. In a statement released ahead of the march, Tikhanovskaya, who has taken refuge in Lithuania, praised the “brave women of Belarus“. “They are marching despite being constantly menaced and put under pressure,” she said.

A 73-year-old activist among the detained

Among those detained Saturday was Nina Baginskaya, a 73-year-old activist who has become one of the best-known faces of the protest movement after scuffling with armed policemen last month. Police released her outside a police station shortly afterwards.

Police detained so many protesters that they ran out of room in vans, releasing around 10 women. 

One female protester was taken away in an ambulance after lying on the ground, apparently unconscious, as emergency services were called after several women became unwell during the detentions.

The opposition is due to hold mass demonstrations on Sunday.

Lukashenko’s crackdown on the protests has prompted the European Union to weigh fresh sanctions against his government.

The president, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, says the protesters are being backed by foreign powers. Earlier this month he secured a $1.5 billion lifeline from Moscow.