Belarus police detain a 73-year-old activist while the EU considers renewing the sanctions
Belarus police have detained hundreds of women in the capital Minsk who had joined a march demanding that longtime President Alexander Lukashenko resign.
Among the detained was Nina Bahinskaya, a 73-year-old great-grandmother who has become an icon of the protest movement.
Police detained so many protesters that they ran out of room in vans and had to free some of the women, according to AFP news agency. It reported that Ms Bahinskaya was taken to a police station and released shortly afterwards.
After the police stopped detaining people, the remaining protesters formed a chain along one of the central streets of the capital and chanted “Long live Belarus!”
The opposition movement has been led by three women but only one, Maria Kolesnikova, has not gone into exile. She was charged with incitement to undermine national security days after allegedly ripping up her passport when the authorities tried to expel her from the country.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who stood against Mr Lukashenko as the opposition candidate, said she won the election and was forced to flee to Lithuania shortly afterwards. She is expected to meet European Union foreign ministers and the bloc’s diplomatic chief in Brussels on Monday.
Minsk reacted angrily on Saturday to reports that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya could soon meet EU foreign ministers.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also criticised the EU for inviting Tsikhanouskaya to the ministerial meeting as well as for considering sanctions against Minsk, saying Brussels was trying to “rock the boat” in Belarus.
The EU is considering fresh sanctions on the Lukashenko government because of the crackdown on the protests. According to UN Special Rapporteur Anaïs Marin, more than 10,000 peaceful protesters have been “abusively arrested” and “over 500 cases of torture, committed by state agents” have been reported.
Mr Lukashenko says the demonstrations are backed by foreign powers and has offered to implement constitutional reforms but, so far, has refused to step down. Earlier this month, he secured a $1.5bn (£1.2bn) loan from Russia.
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