Police fired at protesters in Belarus, hundreds detained

Police in Belarus on Wednesday said they had detained hundreds and shot at protesters in a third night of violence over a disputed presidential election. Western governments have condemned the crackdown and the European Union said the bloc's foreign ministers would discuss Belarus at an extraordinary meeting on Friday, news wires reported.

Protesters rallied again on Tuesday night to contest strongman President Alexander Lukashenko's claim of having won Sunday's election, although they were in smaller numbers after police cordoned off city centres and limited transport. Lukashenko on Wednesday claimed the demonstrators were "people with a criminal past who are now unemployed" and told them to get jobs.

The authorities also blocked internet access overnight and riot police targeted press photographers, pulling out memory cards and breaking cameras.

In the capital Minsk, protesters and witnesses said riot police used indiscriminate force against those who did gather, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets in the suburbs.

Police said they opened fire on demonstrators and wounded one in the southwestern city of Brest on the Polish border. They said the protesters were armed with metal bars and ignored warning shots. Belarus's Euroradio reported the wounded man was shot in the head.

The interior ministry said protesters gathered in 25 cities and towns on Tuesday night and that more than 1,000 people had been detained. The latest arrests have brought the number of detentions to more than 6,000 after three days of protests. The health ministry said 51 people were hospitalised Tuesday night.

Lukashenko’s main rival in the election Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left Belarus on Tuesday for neighbouring Lithuania as allies said she came under official pressure.

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