Belarus bets on fresh arrests

Police arrested around twenty people protesting the disputed reelection of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday, hours after Nobel Prize-winning author Svetlana Alexievich recounted her meeting with investigators in a criminal probe to the opposition, news wires reported.

Roughly one thousand people had gathered late Wednesday on Independence Square in the capital Minsk. AFP journalists saw around 20 of them arrested by the large numbers of riot police present at the event.

Since the 9 August election, mass demonstrations have pushed back against Lukashenko's claim to have won 80% of the vote and yet another term as president after 26 years in power. Last Sunday a crowd of more than 100,000 gathered in Minsk for the second Sunday in a row. But the government crackdown on marches and strikes in key industries has intensified in step with the protests.

Earlier on Wednesday, Nobel prizewinner author Alexievich met briefly with officials investigating the opposition's Coordination Council, of which she is a member. She left soon after arriving for questioning, saying she had invoked her right not to testify against herself and that the council's only goal was "to unite society". 

The council was formed to oversee a peaceful transition of power after opposition leaders rejected Lukashenko's claim to have won a sixth term, but was swiftly targeted by a criminal probe. Seventy-two-year-old Alexievich was named a member of the council's presidium but has not attended its sessions.

Also on Wednesday, Iouri Rovovoi, a strike leader at fertiliser maker Grodno Azot, said in an Instagram message that he had fled to Poland as he feared arrest.

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