MINSK (Reuter)–Police beat protesters against hard-line Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in an unsanctioned demonstration on Friday.
Reuters correspondents on Independence Square in the capital of the former Soviet republic saw police arrest about 50 people–including journalists and two leading opposition politicians.
Some of those arrested looked dazed but there was no sign of bloodshed. Police used truncheons and forced protesters to the ground before bundling them into trucks and police jeeps.
Anatoly Lebedko–a former advisor to Lukashenko who defected to the opposition and is a member of the alternative parliament of former deputies–was among those detained.
The second detained politician was Boris Gunter–who also refused to join the new parliament set up after Lukashenko won a referendum last November by a landslide.
About 1,000 mostly young activists had gathered on the square at 5 p.m. to start a tour of Western embassies to register their opposition to Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule and policy of closer ties with Russia.
Authorities had sanctioned the rally–titled "Belarus into Europe," but police moved in to stop the protesters leaving the square as they had been banned from proceeding through the city.
About 200 police with truncheons were waiting for the protesters on the square and others waited in side-streets. They shouted instructions over loudspeakers to clear the area several times before moving in.
Meanwhile a court case was being held against Professor Yuri Khodyko–53–a leader of the nationalist Popular Front which organized the protest.
He was arrested at the Front’s headquarters in a late-night raid and charged with interfering with police activities. Minsk authorities have also banned protesters from marching through the capital Saturday–when opposition forces plan a large rally to mark Constitution Day.