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Belarus Protest Leaders Detained As Hundreds Rally Against 'Parasite Tax'

Protesters In Belarusian City Meet Regional Official, Call For Better Work Conditions
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WATCH: Protesters In Belarusian City Meet Regional Official, Call For Better Work Conditions

SLONIM, Belarus -- Authorities in Belarus on March 19 detained at least three organizers of protests against a controversial tax on the unemployed, as hundreds took to the streets in the latest in a series of demonstrations against the levy in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Viktar Marchyk, a politician with the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), was detained in the western city of Slonim, where several hundred protesters rallied against what authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka calls a tax on "social parasites."

Meanwhile, a second planned protest in the western city of Baranavichy appeared to initially fizzle out after authorities preemptively detained two organizers of the rally.

Plainclothes officers there appeared to outnumber a few dozen people who had gathered at the site of the planned demonstration on March 19.

PHOTO GALLERY: Hundreds Rally In Belarus Against 'Parasite Tax'

Both the United States and the European Union have sharply criticized Lukashenka's government for its response to several protests across the country this month.

Authorities have detained more than 150 people across Belarus since March 1, dozens of whom have been handed jail sentences of up to 15 days.

The recent protests in the capital, Minsk, and other Belarusian cities have continued despite Lukashenka's March 9 announcement that collection of the tax would be suspended until 2018.

At the March 19 demonstration in Slonim, the top local official addressed angry protesters in a conciliatory tone, promising their grievances would be heard.

He also promised to protect the demonstrators from retribution by authorities, though Marchyk -- one of the organizers -- was subsequently detained following the protest.

Authorities have largely refrained from intervening in the protests, and a majority of detentions of organizers have occurred before or after the demonstrations.

Prior to the planned protest in Baranavichy on March 19, authorities detained the two main organizers of the rally: Mikalay Charnavus, a local BPF activist, and Ryhor Hryk, an independent trade union leader.

Hryk was detained as he emerged from his apartment in the morning, while Charnavus told RFE/RL that he was detained in a market and hauled into a police station, ostensibly as a witness in a criminal case.

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