MINSK -- Belarusian police have made hundreds of arrests and fired tear gas and stun grenades during nationwide protests as a groundswell of opposition to Alyaksandr Lukashenka continued for the 50th consecutive day.
Belarus's Interior Ministry said more than 350 people were detained during the demonstrations, bringing the total number of arrests over the weekend to about 500.
More than 12,000 people have been detained since the protests began last month, according to human rights group Vyasna.
In the capital, Minsk, an estimated 100,000 people flooded the streets on September 27 waving red-and-white opposition flags in the latest show of popular discontent since Lukashenka was declared winner of the August 9 presidential election, which the opposition and Western countries say was rigged.
People shouted "fascist" and "shame" as they decried Lukashenka and his government's uncompromising response to the protests and opposition demands.
Some Minsk demonstrators began dispersing after 6 p.m. when it started to rain. But many people remained on Independence Avenue occupying half of the roadway, with some people inside slow-moving vehicles.
Elsewhere, riot police wearing balaclavas attacked people in the eastern city of Homel with tear gas and fired shots in the air as they made arrests and dispersed protests.
A spokesman for the Homel Regional Executive Committee's Main Department of Internal Affairs said "technical devices" were used to cause a loud explosion and a flash of light and tear gas was used "because some people behaved inappropriately," RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported.
Demonstrators were also detained in another major city, Hrodna, where security forces also used tear gas against demonstrators.
Rallies were also reported in Mahilyou and Lida. Security forces in Mahilyou used a stun grenade after several dozen people tried to march in two columns through the central streets of the city. Eyewitnesses said security forces beat protesters with truncheons and detained people in a minibus.
The human rights group Vyasna said it was aware of 380 people detained around the country during the September 27 rallies. About 150 were arrested during protests the day before.
The protests came after Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was inaugurated on September 23 in a secretive ceremony that prompted European Union members and the United States to issue statements that they did not recognize his legitimacy.
Protesters staged the events as an "inauguration of the people" in support of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled opposition candidate, who is now in Lithuania.
Tsikhanouskaya, who joined the presidential race at the last moment after her husband’s own bid was ended after he was jailed, claims she won the election with 60 to 70 percent of the vote.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
She called for Belarusians to demonstrate on September 27 for the “goal of new, honest elections and, as a result, an official, lawful inauguration.”
"Today is the 50th day of our protests," she said in a video address. "We've come out to stop this regime, and we are doing this peacefully."
The protests came a day after security forces in Minsk detained more than 100 protesters during a women’s march.
Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets for seven weeks, calling for Lukashenka to step down and new elections to be held.
Lukashenka has directed a brutal crackdown in response to protests, including thousands of arrests, beatings, and other mistreatment of peaceful protesters, and the expulsions of foreign journalists.
He has denied accusations that the presidential election was rigged.
Meanwhile, most figures in the opposition's Coordination Council, a body established to facilitate dialogue and a peaceful transfer of power, have been forced into exile or detained.
In Lithuania, leading writers, artists, and scientists on September 27 appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron to support protesters in Belarus. Macron begins a two-day visit to Lithuania and Latvia on September 28.
"Men and women of Belarus are subjected to inhuman torture. And this is happening in 21st century Europe!," said a poster designed as an open letter to Macron and signed by more than 40 leading Lithuanian cultural figures.
"We trust that you, who represents France, where human rights were born, will also hear the painful cry of the Belarusian people for their freedom," the appeal says.