MINSK -- Belarusian authorities have released two opposition activists after embattled Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claims to have won the August presidential election, met with them and 10 other jailed opposition figures.
Belarusian state television channel Belarus-1 said late on October 11 that Yury Vaskrasenski, a member of the election campaign of former potential presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka, and Dzmitry Rabtsevich, director of the company PandaDoc IT, had been transferred to house arrest.
Babaryka, a banker once seen as Lukashenka's toughest rival in the August 9 election, was prevented from running and jailed before the vote.
The televised program showed Vaskrasenski, who said that after Lukashenka met with the jailed opposition figures on October 10, he was personally asked "to prepare his inputs regarding constitutional changes and define conditions for the release of some individuals," who, as the television program's anchors said, "turned out not to be as dangerous as they previously appeared."
Belarusian opposition figures described the visit as a sign of weakness from Lukashenka.
Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on October 10 that Lukashenka had "acknowledged the existence of political prisoners whom he used to call criminals." But she said, "You can't have dialogue in a prison cell."
The European Union and the United States have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president of Belarus after he claimed a landslide victory in an August election that has been widely criticized as fraudulent.
The results have sparked weeks of mass protests and have been contested by Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters claim won the vote, as well as opposition figures across the country.
The Belarusian Interior Ministry said on October 12 that 713 people were detained across the country during the protests the previous day, of whom 590 were placed in pretrial detention.
According to the ministry's statement, in all some 11,000 people took part in the October 11 protests in Minsk and other towns and cities in Belarus. Some opposition sources have put the size of the crowd in Minsk at around double that.
Independent media reports said earlier that there were at least 40 journalists among the detained individuals in what observers said was the most violent crackdown in weeks against protesters demanding an end to the 66-year-old's authoritarian rule, which began in 1994.
Tsikhanouskaya only ran as a presidential candidate against Lukashenka after the jailing of her husband by Belarusian authorities eliminated the possibility of his running in the election.
She said she was allowed on October 10 to have her first phone call in four months with her jailed husband, video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski.