Journalists preparing to cover anti-government protests in Belarus have been arrested, according to witnesses.
Video posted on Twitter shows a journalist reporting from Freedom Square, in the capital Minsk, when a police van pulls up behind to arrest her. Her broadcast is interrupted before she and about 20 other reporters and photographers are escorted into the van.
They were taken en masse to the Oktiabrskij police centre, according to reporter Denis Kazakiewicz.
Their phones and identity documents were confiscated.
It is not immediately clear why they were arrested but it follows weeks of unrest in the eastern European nation over the re-election of president Alexander Lukashenko – dubbed ‘Europe’s last dictator’.
Lukashenko, who assumed office in 1994, was re-elected again on August 9 after securing 80% of the vote.
The president’s opponents say the election was rigged while the UK does not accept the results.
Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya remains in exile after fleeing Belarus in the wake of the election.
It comes after Vladimir Putin revealed Lukashenko had asked Russia to send police to Belarus if protests turned violent, before adding there was no need for it now.
Putin said: ‘We have agreed not to use it until the situation starts spinning out of control and extremist elements acting under the cover of political slogans cross certain borders and engage in banditry and start burning cars, houses and banks or take over administrative buildings.’
The embattled Belarusian leader has ruled his nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist for 26 years, earning him the moniker ‘Europe’s last dictator’.
After a brutal crackdown on demonstrators in the first days of post-election protests, when nearly 7,000 people were detained, hundreds were injured and at least three protesters died, the authorities changed tactics and let daily demonstrations go unhindered for nearly two weeks.
The government, meanwhile, has maintained pressure on the opposition with threats and selective jailing of its leaders.
Lukashenko, who has called protesters ‘rats’, had agreed to reduce some of his presidential powers but it did little to quell the protests. Nearly 100,000 people marched in the capital on Sunday.
The strongman has previously said there will be no new election ‘until you kill me’.
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