Belarusian riot police on Saturday violently detained several dozen women demonstrators and threw them into vans, as thousands took to the streets of the capital to protest against police violence and electoral fraud.
Unprecedented demonstrations broke out in Belarus after Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, claimed to have defeated opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and won re-election with 80 percent of the vote on August 9.
Ahead of a massive new protest expected on Sunday, columns of female protesters gathered in central Minsk for a peaceful women’s protest.
Some beat saucepans with ladles and others chanted “Bring back our Masha”, referring to opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova by her diminutive name.
Kolesnikova, 38, was jailed this week after she resisted forced expulsion by ripping up her passport.
But scuffles broke out in Minsk’s Freedom Square as men in black face masks and green uniforms without insignia sought to detain women protesters, showed footage broadcast by Belsat TV channel and Tut.by, a Belarusian independent outlet.
Some women pushed back and tried to unmask the uniformed men. Another video showed riot police officers roughly throwing female protesters into police vans.
The Viasna rights group said more than 40 people had been detained.
The spokeswoman for the interior ministry, Olga Chemodanova, told AFP that “women had been detained” but could not say how many or provide other details.
In a video appeal, Tikhanovskaya, who was forced out of the country and was granted refuge in EU member Lithuania, urged riot police to stop the violence.
“You will be ashamed of what you are doing today,” she said, calling the violence “outrageous.”
Belsat, a Warsaw-based opposition television channel, said on Telegram that two of its journalists covering the protest had also been detained.
On Monday, Lukashenko is to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, with the two set to discuss plans to further integrate their countries.