Belarus Says 300 Detained During Opposition Protests; Two Journalists Reportedly 'Severely Beaten'

The Belarusian Interior Ministry says about 300 people were detained in Minsk on November 1 in Alyaksandr Lukashenka's latest crackdown on peaceful demonstrators protesting against a disputed presidential election that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept.

The ministry acknowledged on November 2 that law enforcement officers used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of demonstrators who had marched from central Minsk to a Soviet-era execution site demanding Lukashenka's resignation and a new vote. The rallies coincided with an annual march that commemorates victims of Soviet-era killings buried at Kurapaty on the outskirts of Minsk.

"About 300 people were detained in Minsk and the Minsk region for breaking laws on mass gatherings," the ministry said on its Telegram channel.

Four journalists were among those detained on November 1, two of which were “severely beaten,” Boris Goretsky of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told RFE/RL’s Belarus Service.

It was the 12th consecutive Sunday of marches in Minsk held to keep the pressure on Lukashenka, who has orchestrated a massive crackdown and arrested thousands since authorities declared him the landslide winner of an August 9 election to give him a sixth consecutive term.

Most of the country’s opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, including presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has said the vote was rigged in Lukashenka's favor and considers herself the rightful winner.

She left Belarus for Lithuania after the vote amid threats to her and her family.

Last week, Lukashenka tightened his grip on Belarus by partially closing its border to the west, replacing his interior minister, and signaling to security officers policing protests that they should intensify the crackdown on demonstrators.

In the November 1 protest, some motorists appeared to try to block the movement of paddy wagons intended to carry off detainees.

Armored vehicles equipped with machine guns were seen in Minsk along with water cannons and other anti-riot equipment. 

Mobile phone coverage was said to be cut off in many areas as estimates suggested that dual marches had attracted tens of thousands of people.

The political situation in Belarus is now at an impasse, with the Moscow-backed Lukashenka refusing to resign and the opposition unable to force his ouster.

Tsikhanouskaya has urged a "national strike" since October 26 that has been met with security sweeps and more brutal moves against dissenters.

Lukashenka has repeatedly accused the opposition and critics of being foreign-backed puppets.

He has bolstered forces at Belarus's western borders and accused Poland and Baltic states of trying to destabilize Belarus.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AP