Belarusian police detain at least 250 protesters as tens of thousands protest in the capital, Minsk, ahead of talks between the powerful Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Security forces in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck.
“About 250 people have been detained in various districts of the capital,” the interior ministry said in a statement, adding that the detainees were carrying flags and “attack” placards.
Law enforcement forces armed with barbed wire were spotted in the back in Oktyabskaya Square in central Minsk. Independence Square was also fenced off.
Protesters marched on the Independence Palace, the home of President Lukashenko.
“Soldiers surrounded us in several circles, expelled from the crowd as elected and attacked,” an unidentified protester told Reuters.
Lukashenko – who has been in power for 26 years – is facing public outrage after announcing a landslide victory in last month’s presidential election. He denies the allegations.
Al Jazeera’s Stephen Wasson complained by phone from Minsk that the Internet was blocked and that it was “very difficult” for security forces to rally protesters.
However, he said tens of thousands of people had gathered in the center of the capital at different locations than initially planned.
An Al Jazeera cameraman was briefly detained and almost dragged into a van, but Wisen said he escaped.
“Masked police vans are speeding around the city, stopping people from the street,” he said. “It is very clear that today’s strategy is to prevent the movement towards Sunday’s rally. “
At least 5,000 people marched across the city on Saturday demanding the release of a jailed opposition leader in the latest mass protests since the August 9 presidential election.
Met with Putin
Key opposition figures Belarus Imprisoned or deported. Lukashenko will arrive in Russia on Monday for talks with Putin as the two countries begin joint military exercises.
Wason Lukashenko said the meeting with Putin was important. “He wants to show that these demonstrations are under his control. Pictures of huge crowds are not something he wants to see today.”
He said the government and the protesters were digging and did not want to compromise.
Belarus embarrassment: Fighting Europe’s last dictatorship
“This is an absolute position. Lukashenko has repeatedly stated that he is not ready to resign. The people here are not ready to stop this process because they have started something called the ‘Awareness of Belarus’. Many years later, after 26 years of dictatorship, they are no longer acceptable. “
Peter Salmayev, a member of the Eurasian Democratic Initiative, said that the monthly mass rallies every Sunday were aimed at eliminating Lukashenko and his “iron-twisted regime.”
“One goal from the protesters is to remove the boy, they are dissolving the leadership without a leader, and they are doing it in a wonderful democratic style with a real popular uprising that Belarus has never seen,” Salmayev told Al Jazeera.
He said the only reason Lukashenko was “hanged” was because of the loyalty of his security forces.
“The big unknown is Vladimir Putin, who sent contradictory signals. From what we have seen, he does not want to think about the success of a street demonstration, which will set a very unpleasant precedent for Russia and Putin’s regime,” Salmayev said.
Al Jazeera and news organizations