Police have detained more than 1,000 people in Belarus during the latest protests against the results of the country’s presidential election, officials said.
Rallies took place in 25 cities on Tuesday and overnight, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told the Associated Press. Thousands have demonstrated in the capital Minsk and several other cities for three nights to contest the election results.
The Central Election Commission reported that President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in Sunday’s election with 80% of the vote.
Opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who attracted massive crowds at campaign events where voters expressed frustration with Mr Lukashenko’s 26-year authoritarian rule, got 10%.
Belarusian human rights group Viasna said many people were afraid to seek medical help, fearing prosecution for participating in the protests.
“We have information that medical workers are obligated to report all injuries and wounds to the police, and doctors see the protesters not as victims but rather as enemies of Belarus’ stability,” Viasna lawyer Pavel Sapelko said.
Earlier this week the Investigative Committee launched a criminal probe into mass rioting. Some 3,000 people were detained after Sunday’s protests and another 2,000 after rallies that started on Monday evening and lasted well into the night.
State news agency Belta reported on Wednesday that police detained “co-ordinators of mass riots” in Minsk. The detained men allegedly “managed hundreds” of protesters and were accused of paying them to participate in the unrest, Belta said.
Nearly 30 journalists are among those detained, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said. Three have already been sentenced to 10 to 15 days of administrative arrest and 25 more remain in custody, awaiting their turn to face court.
“A deliberate hunt for journalists with independent Belarusian and foreign media has begun,” said Boris Goretsky, vice president of the journalists’ association.
Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994, has derided the political opposition as “sheep” manipulated by foreign masters and vowed to continue taking a tough position on protests.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya, 37, a former English teacher who entered the race after her husband’s jailing in Belarus, left the country for Lithuania on Tuesday, hours after publicly disputing the vote results and submitting a formal request for a recount. Her campaign said she made the move under duress.
The actions by police this week have been criticised by the European Union and the US.
Developments in Belarus will be on the agenda of an urgent meeting of EU foreign ministers on Friday, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted.
The meeting was called a day after Mr Borrell said the 27-nation bloc would review its relations with Belarus and whether to take “measures against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests, and falsification of election results”.