Riot police detained hundreds of women as opposition protesters marched through the Belarusian capital Minsk demanding an end to President Alexander Lukashenko’s rule.
Approximately 2,000 women took part in the “Sparkly March” on Saturday, wearing shiny accessories and carrying red-and-white flags of the protest movement.
Police blocked the women and began dragging them into police vans as they stood with linked hands, swiftly detaining several hundred, an AFP journalist saw.
The human rights group Viasna published the names of 314 people detained during the protests on its website.
The number was about three times as high as at the protests a week ago, when masked uniformed men used brutal violence against the peaceful demonstrators for the first time.
The march was the latest in a series of all-women protests calling for the strongman president to leave following his disputed victory in elections last month.
His opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya also claimed the victory.
In a statement released in advance of the march, Tikhanovskaya, who has taken refuge in Lithuania, praised the “brave women of Belarus”.
“They are marching despite being constantly menaced and put under pressure,” she said.
Among those detained on Saturday was Nina Baginskaya, a 73-year-old activist who has become one of the best-known faces of the protest movement. Police released her outside a police station shortly afterwards.
Police detained so many protesters that they ran out of room in vans, releasing approximately 10 women.
Ambulances were called after several women became unwell during their detention. One female protester was taken away in an ambulance after lying on the ground, apparently unconscious.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Minsk, said Lukashenko had stepped up the repression against women this week.
“So the strategy now that seems to be coming from Lukashenko’s regime is basically to treat everyone as violently as possible, making sure that people are so scared and intimidated that they will stop these protests,” she said.
“But the opposite is happening, and the more they are being detained, the more determined they seem to be to actually go back to the street.”
The opposition is due to hold mass demonstrations on Sunday.
Lukashenko’s crackdown on the protests has prompted the European Union to weigh fresh sanctions against his government.
The president, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, says the protesters are being backed by foreign powers. Earlier this month he secured a $1.5bn lifeline from Moscow.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies