Belarusian riot police have violently detained dozens of female demonstrators, as thousands took to the streets of the capital demanding the release of a jailed opposition leader, the latest in a wave of mass protests following a disputed election.
In advance of a significant protest expected on Sunday, columns of female protesters gathered in central Minsk on Saturday for a peaceful demonstration.
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 from the country by ripping up her passport.
Scuffles broke out in Minsk’s central Freedom Square during Saturday’s protests as men in black face masks sought to detain some protesters and they pushed back, footage broadcast by Belsat TV channel and Tut.by, a Belarusian independent outlet, showed.
Another video showed riot police officers roughly throwing female protesters into police vans.
The Viasna rights group said 30 protesters had been detained.
The spokeswoman for the interior ministry, Olga Chemodanova, told AFP news agency that “women had been detained” but could not say how many or provide other details.
Belsat, a Warsaw-based opposition television channel, said on Telegram that two of its journalists covering the protest had also been detained.
Unprecedented demonstrations broke out in Belarus last month after strongman President 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.
Protesters say the election was rigged to hand Lukashenko a phoney landslide win and that Tikhanovskaya – who has since fled to Lithuania – was the real winner.
Lukashenko denies this and has said foreign powers are behind the protests.
Tikhanovskaya, who stood against Lukashenko in place of her husband who was detained before the election, called on Saturday for the police to stop cracking down on dissent.
“Violence you are putting on women is disgraceful,” she said in a statement. “Anyone who commits a crime against peaceful protesters will be called to answer.”