MINSK -- Belarusian police detained hundreds of protesters during nationwide rallies on September 20 as mounting pressure on authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka continued for a sixth week.
Police detained at least 140 in the capital Minsk and at least 60 in other cities, Belarusian rights organization Vyasna reported late in the evening.
More than 100,000 people attended the rally in Minsk, according to local and international news agencies, defying police warnings not to assemble.
Arrests in the city of Brest appeared violent as law enforcement in black riot gear charged into a crowd and dragged away peaceful protesters. Many fought back, prompting Brest police to fire into the air, which sent the crowd scattering.
Protesters in Minsk carried the banned red-and-white flag associated with the opposition movement and called on Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994, to step down.
'Leave!' they chanted in unison as the march inundated the capital.
Authorities brought armored military trucks and barbed wire into central Minsk ahead of the planned rally and at various locations across the country in the latest attempt to intimidate citizens.
Belarus has been rocked by mass protests ever since August 9, when Lukashenka was declared the winner of a presidential vote that the opposition and Western countries deemed rigged.
Lukashenka, who has ruled the nation with an iron fist since 1994, has sought to squash the protest movement as in past years with a sharp crackdown on dissent.
Police have arrested almost 12,000 since the protests began, according to Vyasna.
They have also tortured hundreds of those detained, sparking outrage in the West.
Photo Gallery: Marching In Minsk: Anti-Government Protesters Again Take To The Streets RFE/RL's Belarus Service For the sixth week in a row, large-scale, peaceful protests against the rule of Alyaksandr Lukashenka are taking place in Minsk. Security forces cordoned off many strategic facilities in advance, blocked the central parts of the capital, and began preventive detentions. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on В Контакте Email to a Friend Share on LinkedIn
"This is an incredible amount," said Ales Byalyatski, the head of Vyasna, adding the numbers far surpass anything independent Belarus witnessed in previous postelection crackdowns.
He said up to 3,000 were detained amid the 2006 and 2010 presidential elections.
Despite the sharp jump in arrests, the mass rallies have continued and with Lukashenka refusing to give up power, the situation has entered a stalemate.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition leader who claims to have won the August 9 election, addressed citizens afraid to join the street protests amid the government crackdown, saying they could still help the movement by sewing flags, creating ideas for posters, and helping free detainees.
'Our country has changed forever, and now everyone is important, everyone is important. Even if you didn't go out today, tomorrow you can take a step towards the new Belarus. Everyone can do something that will affect the future of our country. Our mutual support is our strength,' she said via her Telegram channel on September 20.
Tsikhanouskaya fled Belarus last month amid fear of arrest and is currently in neighboring Lithuania.
She is among several opposition leaders who have been forced to leave the country or been detained.
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