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Police in Belarus Disperse Another Protest, Detain Scores

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Police in Belarus on Saturday detained scores of demonstrators pushing for the resignation of the country’s authoritarian leader after an August election widely seen as manipulated.

Hundreds of students marched across the capital, chanting “Go away” to demand that President Alexander Lukashenko step down. They were blocked by police, who rounded up some and forced others to disperse.

Later in the day, hundreds of women staged their regular weekend march across the capital, Minsk. “You sang your song, it’s time to get off the stage!” one placard read.

The Viasna human rights center said more than 30 demonstrators were detained.

Daily protests have occurred since the Aug. 9 election in which Lukashenko was declared the winner with 80% of the vote. The European Union and the United States denounced the vote as neither free nor fair and introduced sanctions against top Belarusian officials accused of rigging the vote and engineering the post-election crackdown.

Earlier this week, the top opposition challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who moved to Lithuania after the election under pressure from Belarusian authorities, put forward an ultimatum to Lukashenko: announce his resignation by Oct. 25 or face a nationwide strike.

Tsikhanouskaya hailed the participants of Saturday’s rallies as a “big and bright force.”

Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for more than 26 years, has accused the West of fueling the protests and relied on support from his main sponsor and ally, Russia, to dig in.

Belarusian authorities tried to squelch the protests with massive violence in the first days after the vote, dispersing peaceful demonstrators with stun grenades and rubber bullets, detaining thousands and beating hundreds. The crackdown drew international outrage and helped swell the number of protesters, peaking each Sunday with over 100,000 on the streets.

Since then, the government has scaled down the violence but maintained the pressure, regularly detaining scores of protesters and prosecuting top activists. Prominent members of the opposition’s Coordination Council, formed to push for a transition of power, have been arrested or forced to leave the country.

Authorities also have made methodical efforts to stifle independent media, regularly rounding up reporters covering protests and threatening them with jail terms for taking part. Several journalists were detained on Saturday.

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Belarus Police Threaten to Start Shooting as Protests Go On

Belarus police threatened to start using combat weapons Monday after weekly protests in the capital of Minsk took a violent turn, in a sign that the authorities may be preparing even harsher tactics as the protests enter a third month.

“The protests, which have shifted mostly to Minsk, have become more organized and extremely radical,” a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in a video statement. “Interior Ministry troops won’t leave the streets and will use special equipment and combat weapons if necessary.”

Unidentified men in balaclavas used stun grenades and pepper spray on people participating in a march of pensioners against the authorities on Monday, Tut.by website reported.

A day earlier, police detained over 700 people as protesters clashed with law enforcement, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The violence appeared to mark a shift from the largely peaceful weekly protests that started after a disputed Aug. 9 election.

Monday’s warning from police comes after President Alexander Lukashenko met in prison with several jailed members of the opposition over the weekend. After the meeting on constitutional reforms, which included presidential candidate Viktor Babaryka, two of the participants were released under house arrest, according to state-run Belta news service.

Lukashenko, who has been in office for 26 years, was sworn in for a sixth term on Sept. 23 as the opposition has maintained daily protests against his regime that swell to hundreds of thousands across the country at weekends.

European Union foreign ministers said Monday they are ready to add Lukashenko to a blacklist of Belarusians who have impeded free elections that it unveiled earlier this month.

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