More than 100,000 people are thought to have taken part in a protest in Minsk against the president of Belarus – amid reports that masked “snatch squads” have been detaining some student demonstrators.
Protesters were bundled into vans for taking part in fresh unsanctioned rallies against leader Alexander Lukashenko on the fourth weekend since his disputed re-election in August.
Around 30 students were dragged off the streets by snatch squads on Saturday, Russian news agency TASS reported, citing Minsk police, with further protesters believed to have been detained by the masked agents on Sunday.
The interior ministry of Belarus said 91 people in total were detained on Saturday. At least 100 protesters have been detained across the country on Sunday, Russia’s Interfax news agency reports, citing the ministry.
Protests have taken place over several days.
Draped in red-and-white opposition flags, students staged demonstrations in several locations across the capital, including outside the Minsk State Linguistic Institute, where police arrested five people on Friday, local media footage showed.
It was on Saturday that masked men dragged away protesting students who had gathered at a restaurant in Karl Marx Street in the centre of Minsk – prompting thousands of women to later hold a separate march through the city in the afternoon, shouting “hands off the children” as one of their slogans.
Mass demonstrations showed no sign of abating on Sunday, with hordes of people marching through Minsk calling on the president to step down.
Thousands of protesters ignored a government warning to march in front of soldiers and military vehicles, waving opposition flags and shouting “go away!” and “you’re a rat!”
Meanwhile, Interfax reported that several people were injured when police broke up a protest outside a state-run tractor factory.
Women were filmed shouting “shame” at masked members of the security forces who dragged people into detention in video footage shared by local media outlet TUT.BY.
Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has struggled to contain a wave of mass protests and strikes since he won a sixth term at an election with 80% of last month’s vote, which opponents claim was rigged.
The former Soviet collective farm manager denies electoral fraud, and with the support of Russia, has rejected calls from his main opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled into exile two days after the vote.
Demonstrations have continued throughout the four weeks since the election.
Following arrests on Saturday, the interior ministry said in a statement that it planned to beef up security and “take all necessary measures to suppress such actions and prevent violations of public order” on Sunday.
Former English teacher Ms Tsikhanouskaya, 37, is set to meet the Polish prime minister in Warsaw next week.
She said in a video address on Saturday that the momentum of the protests was irreversible.
“Belarusians have already changed, they have awakened and it is impossible to push them back into the former mindset,” she said.
Lithuania’s foreign minister urged the European Union to impose sanctions on Belarus and counter Russia’s influence or risk undermining the credibility of its foreign policy.
“Sometimes we react too late and our measures are fragmented and aren’t making any impression on society or the people in power,” Linas Linkevicius said in an interview published in the Financial Times.