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Belarus Forces Fire Tear Gas, Beat Demonstrators In Minsk As Tens Of Thousands Take To Streets

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Belarusian Security Forces Detain Protesters
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WATCH: Belarusian Security Forces Detain Protesters

MINSK -- Security forces in the Belarusian capital have detained more than 200 people in the latest anti-government protest fueled by a disputed presidential election 12 weeks ago.

Thousands of demonstrators took part November 1 in marches in Minsk as part of almost daily protests demanding Alyaksandr Lukashenka's resignation and a new vote.

According to a list published by the human rights group Vyasna, nearly all the people detained were taken into custody in Minsk.

Four journalists were among those detained, and two of them were “severely beaten,” said Boris Goretsky of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, according to RFE/RL’s Belarus Service.

Columns of security trucks and buses to hold detainees could be seen around the city as people marched toward a well-known monument to Soviet-era repression victims outside the capital.

Belarusian Protesters Commemorate Victims Of Stalin
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Protesters were targeted with flash-bang grenades, and law enforcement used tear gas and batons to try to disperse the crowds.

Authorities acknowledged that police officers also fired warning shots into the air during the demonstration in Minsk.

These were "necessary measures to maintain order in the capital and ensure public safety during an unauthorized mass event," a statement of the Minsk City Executive Committee quoted by Interfax-Zapad said. It cited people who had ignored traffic rules and warnings of police officers about those who had obstructed traffic.

Some motorists appeared to be trying to block the movement of vehicles intended to carry off detainees.

Armored vehicles equipped with machine guns were seen in Minsk along with water cannons and other anti-riot equipment, according to AP.

It was the 12th consecutive Sunday of marches in Minsk held to keep the pressure on Lukashenka, who has orchestrated a massive crackdown and arrested thousands since authorities declared him the winner of an August 9 election to give him a sixth consecutive term.

Most of the country’s opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, including presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has said the vote was rigged in Lukashenka's favor and considers herself the rightful winner. She left Belarus for Lithuania after the vote amid threats to her and her family.

Tsikhanouskaya has urged a "national strike" since October 26 that has been met with security sweeps and more brutal moves against dissenters.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.

The opposition had set a deadline of midnight on October 25 for Lukashenka -- who has been president for 26 years -- to leave.

Lukashenka responded with another show of power, and later met with his new security chiefs on October 30 and threatened "harsh measures” against protesters.

Vyashna said about 40 people were detained in Minsk, Hrodna, and other Belarusian cities on October 31.

The November 1 rallies coincide with an annual march that commemorates victims of Soviet-era killings with victims buried at Kurapaty, on the outskirts of Minsk.

Cell phone coverage was said to be cut off in many areas as estimates suggested dual marches had attracted tens of thousands of people.

Belarus partially closed all its land borders to foreigners overnight on October 31-November 1 in a move that prompted speculation the restrictions are politically motivated.

The country's State Border Committee said the border restrictions were to “prevent the spread of infection caused by COVID-19."

Lukashenka has repeatedly accused the opposition and critics of being foreign-backed puppets.

He has bolstered forces at Belarus's western borders, and accused Poland and the Baltic states of trying to destabilize Belarus.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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