Detentions Resume in Belarus as Students Take to the Streets

MOSCOW (AP) -- Belarusian authorities on Tuesday resumed detaining protesters in the capital, Minsk, where students took to the streets demanding the resignation of the country's authoritarian leader after an election the opposition denounced as rigged.

Several dozen students on Tuesday held pickets outside their universities and marched through the city center on the fourth week of mass protests rocking the country. Belarusian media reported that at least 18 students were detained as police moved to break up the crowd.

President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed the protesters as Western puppets and bristled at the demands for him to step down after 26 years in power or start a dialogue with the opposition. After a ferocious crackdown on demonstrators in the first days after the Aug. 9 vote that caused international outrage, his government has avoided large-scale violence against demonstrators and sought to end the protests with threats and the selective jailing of activists.

Several organizers of strikes at top industrial plants have been detained. On Tuesday, people started gathering near several large plants in support of the striking workers.

Belarusian prosecutors have opened a criminal probe against the opposition Coordination Council, accusing its members of undermining the country's security. Last week, the country's courts handed 10-day jail sentences to two council members and summoned several others for questioning, including Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel literature laureate.

Another council member, Lilia Vlasova, was detained on Monday.

The U.S. and the European Union have criticized the Aug. 9 election that extended Lukashenko's rule as neither free nor fair and urged Belarusian authorities to engage in a dialogue with the opposition.

Following a fierce dispersal of peaceful demonstrators in the days after the vote that left nearly 7,000 people detained, hundreds injured by police rubber bullets, stun grenades and beatings and at least three protesters dead, police stopped interfering with the demonstrations for the following two weeks, but last week again cranked up the pressure on demonstrators and began breaking up rallies.

The Belarusian government also cracked down hard on the news media, deporting some foreign journalists from the country and revoking the accreditation of many Belarusian journalists. Two Moscow-based Associated Press journalists who were covering the recent protests in Belarus were deported to Russia on Saturday. In addition, the AP's Belarusian journalists were told by the government that their press credentials had been revoked.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists said over the weekend that accreditation rights were also taken away from 17 Belarusians working for several other media, including Germany's ARD television, the BBC, Reuters and AFP, and U.S.-funded radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said five of its journalists lost their accreditation.

The U.S. and the EU officials have strongly condemned the media crackdown.

The detention of hundreds of demonstrators didn't deter the opposition from mounting another massive rally on Sunday, which saw an estimated 100,000 flood the streets of the Belarusian capital amid a heavy police presence.