Belarusian police arrested at least 250 demonstrators while tens of thousands demonstrated in the capital Minsk, ahead of talks between strongman Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Security forces in riot gear used barbed wire to close the central square in the capital.
“About 250 people were arrested in different neighborhoods in the capital,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that the detainees were carrying “offensive” flags and banners.
Oktyabrskaya Square in central Minsk is fenced with barbed wire with armed law enforcement forces behind. Independence Square was also fenced off.
The demonstrators were heading towards the Independence Palace, the residence of President Lukashenko.
“We arrested soldiers in several circles and selectively withdrew people from the crowd and were beaten,” an unidentified protester told Reuters news agency.
Lukashenko – who has been in power for 26 years – is facing a wave of popular anger after announcing his landslide victory in last month’s presidential election that his opponents say were rigged. He denies the allegations.
In a phone report from Minsk, Step Weissen of Al Jazeera said that the internet had been blocked and that security forces were making it very difficult for protesters to gather.
Nevertheless, she said, tens of thousands of people had gathered in the center of the capital, albeit in different locations than originally planned.
Weissen reported that the Al-Jazeera cameraman was arrested for a short period and was nearly dragged to a truck but escaped.
She added, “The vehicles of masked policemen are traveling around the city at high speed, stopping and snatching people from the street.” “It is very clear that the strategy today is to tighten the screws on any further move towards Sunday’s rally. ”
On Saturday, at least 5,000 people demonstrated across the city to demand the release of the imprisoned opposition leader in the latest wave of mass protests after the August 9 presidential election.
Main opposition figures Belarus Imprisoned or forced out of the country. Lukashenko is scheduled to visit Russia for talks with Putin on Monday, as the two countries begin joint military exercises.
Weissen He said Lukashenko’s meeting with Putin was crucial. “He wants to show that these protests are under control, and photos of very large gatherings are not something he wants to see today.”
She said the government and the protesters are digging and neither wants to make concessions.
The Belarus Dilemma: Fighting the Last Dictatorship in Europe
“It’s a complete showdown. Lukashenko has repeatedly said that he is not ready to step down. And the people here are also not ready to stop the process because they have started something they call“ the Belarus awakening. ”After many years, 26 years of dictatorship, they have passed the point where they can accept it Anymore. “
Peter Zalmayev of the Eurasia Democratic Initiative said that the mass rallies that last for a month every day are individualistic in their goal, which is to remove Lukashenko and his “iron-fisted rule.”
“The only goal of the protesters is to get rid of the man and they are doing it in an amazing democratic way without a single leader, with the leadership dispersed, and with a real popular uprising that Belarus has never seen,” Zalmayev told Al Jazeera.
He said that the only reason for Lukashenko’s “suspension” was the loyalty of his security forces.
“The big unknown is Vladimir Putin who sent contradictory signals. From what we have seen, he is unwilling to contemplate a street protest victory, which will create an unpleasant precedent for Russia and Putin’s rule,” Zalmayev said.
Al Jazeera and news agencies