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Belarus police continue crackdown on protests, making arrests in Minsk

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Police detain a demonstrator as they prevent a protest from happening in Minsk, Belarus
Police detain a demonstrator as they prevent a protest from happening in Minsk, Belarus   -   Copyright  BelaPan via AP
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Belarusian police continued to crack down on opposition protests on Saturday, arresting more than 100 people in the capital Minsk, where activists were hoping to gather.

The arrests come two days after more than 200 people were arrested during Freedom Day protests in the country, as opponents of the regime of Alexander Lukashenko continue to protest peacefully, calling for free and fair elections.

One of the organisers of the rally on Saturday, the popular Telegram channel NEXTA, called on demonstrators to fall back on local protests - a switch of tactics activists have adopted in the wake of large scale and often violent police repression.

According to the human rights organisation Viasna, more than 100 people were arrested, including five Belarusian journalists.

Franak Viačorka, an advisor to opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, highlighted the arrests of journalists Katsiaryna Karpitskaya and Nadzeya Buzhan, saying on Twitter “they must be immediately released”.

Huge protests have rocked the country since Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in the presidential elections in August last year - a result dismissed by opponents and many western countries as rigged.

Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years, and is the only person to ever rule as president.

What started out as huge popular protests throughout the country have dwindled down somewhat in the face of mass arrests, violence and intimidation from police.

At least four people have been killed, and heavy prison sentences continue to be handed down to protesters.

On Thursday, small symbolic actions by the opposition had already led to more than 80 arrests, according to Viasna.

The police also searched several members of an organisation representing the Polish minority and arrests had been made in the previous days.

Almost all of the protest figures have been imprisoned or forced into exile, such as former presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has taken refuge in Lithuania.

Despite European and American sanctions against Lukashenko and senior members of his government, the Moscow-backed president has given no sign of opening up.