Belarus has arrested thousands of people during demonstrations that followed a disputed August 9 presidential election. Rights groups say hundreds of detainees reported being subjected to beatings and other abuse.

Law enforcement officers stand behind barbed wire during an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results, in Minsk, Belarus, August 23, 2020.
Law enforcement officers stand behind barbed wire during an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results, in Minsk, Belarus, August 23, 2020. (Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters)

About 300 people have been detained in the Belarusian capital Minsk for protesting at a weekend opposition rally against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched from central Minsk to a Soviet-era execution site on Sunday in the latest protest against 66-year-old Lukashenko's claim to victory in a disputed August 9 presidential election.

"Some 300 people were detained in Minsk and the Minsk region for breaking laws on mass gatherings," the Belarusian Interior Ministry said on its Telegram channel on Monday. It said law enforcement officers used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.

For nearly three months, protesters have been taking to the streets on Sundays demanding that Lukashenko, who has been in power for over two decades, step down and hand power to opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Belarus has arrested thousands of people attending those demonstrations. Rights groups say hundreds of detainees reported being subjected to beatings and other abuse.

But during a review into the country's record by the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, a representative of Belarus's Investigative Committee told the global body: "Currently there have been no identified cases of unlawful acts by the police."

Speaking by video link from Minsk, Mikhail Vavulo blamed protest organisers for using people as "cannon fodder," bringing children and even babies in prams to demonstrations. The Investigative Committee is the law enforcement body charged with prosecuting major crimes in Belarus.

During Monday's review, the first by the UN rights body into Belarus for five years, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States all called for prisoners to be released and for torture accusations to be investigated.

"We are deeply concerned by the ongoing use of violence, intimidation and repression against the Belarusian people," said Andrew Bremberg, US ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

READ MORE: Belarus opposition leader calls national strike from Monday

Opposition leader Tikhanovskaya

Western countries have also imposed sanctions on allies of Lukashenko over vote-rigging and police violence.

Tikhanovskaya, who is now in exile in Lithuania, said she was the real winner of the election and has won the backing of Western leaders who also have refused to recognise the result.

Last Monday, Tikhanovskaya urged supporters to launch a national strike, but its effects on the country's economy appear to be limited.

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

Last week, Lukashenko appointed a new interior minister and police chief in Minsk and warned protesters that security services would "take no prisoners."

The authorities last month threatened to use live ammunition to disperse the protesters.

Belarus last week closed its land borders with EU members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia as well as Ukraine, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

From Sunday, the authorities also banned foreigners from entering the country via land border crossings.

READ MORE: Belarus leader threatens to leave protesters 'without hands'

Source: TRTWorld and agencies