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Dozens detained in Belarus anti-government protest

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A woman kneels in front of a riot police line as they block Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the center of Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020
A woman kneels in front of a riot police line as they block Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the center of Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the Belarusian capital in the third weekend of demonstrations, demanding President Alexander Lukashenko resigns.

Demonstrations began after the autocratic leader claimed victory in an election on August 9, which opponents say was rigged.

Police said 125 people were arrested in Sunday's rally, but Ales Bilyatsky of the Viasna human rights organisation said more than 200 were detained.

AP/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.
Protesters were draped in the old Belarusian national flag.AP/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

The marchers, chanting “Freedom!” and “Resign!” eventually reached the outskirts of the presidential palace, which was blocked off by shield-bearing riot police.

There were no official figures on the crowd size, but some opposition sources claimed it exceeded 100,000.

Demonstrators were seen carrying the old Belarusian red and white flags.

Protests swelled after the autocratic president claimed to have won 80% of the vote and secured a sixth term in office amid allegations of vote-rigging and violence against the opposition.

On Saturday, a thousand women marched in the capital to demand fresh elections and the prosecution of law enforcement officials who are accused of violence and torture. It comes a week after around 100,000 took to the streets demanding Lukashenko steps down.

International observers are stepping in to try to mediate the situation, but the government so far hasn't appeared willing to soften its stance.

News organisations such as the BBC and AP said on Saturday several of their foreign journalists who were covering the unrest in Belarus were deported and others had their accreditations revoked.

Sources said on Sunday Germany would recall its ambassador to Belarus following the withdrawal of journalist accreditations.

Edi Rama, Albanian Prime Minister and chairperson-in-office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Friday it was "deeply alarming" that over 100 journalists had been detained, deported or subject to violence.

The EU is preparing sanctions against high-ranking Belarusian officials accused of vote-rigging and violence.

Lukashenko has accused the West of trying to topple him to weaken Moscow.

The leader has accused NATO of aggressively positioning forces along its borders with Poland and Lithuania and threatened both EU states with counter-sanctions.

AP/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.
Riot police were deployed at the protest.AP/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

NATO says the claims are baseless.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has said he stands ready to send forces to Belarus if the situation should spin "out of control".

Putin and Lukashenko talked by phone on Sunday, but a Kremlin statement gave few details of the conversation, other than noting that Putin congratulated the Belarusian leader on his 66th birthday.