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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 07:28 GMT
Belarus riot police halt protests
Police detain a protester
The police moved in after five days of protests
Riot police in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, have broken up a five-day demonstration against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

More than 100 troops poured into the central square and loaded protesters onto waiting trucks.

Small groups of demonstrators had gathered in the square since Mr Lukashenko secured a third term in office last Sunday.

The opposition condemned the election result, saying the vote was rigged.

The BBC's Emma Simpson says about 150 demonstrators were in the square when it was cleared in less than 20 minutes.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene said some of the demonstrators were wrestled to the ground, while pictures showed helmeted police restraining protesters as they led them away.

Our correspondent says although small in scale, this has been an unprecedented protest for Belarus.

During his 12 years in office, President Lukashenko has shown little tolerance for dissent, she adds.

Opposition defiant

According to an opposition presidential candidate who arrived at the square, all the women were allowed to leave.

The authorities are destroying freedom, truth and justice
Alexander Milinkevich, main opposition leader

After the protesters were removed, municipal workers cleared away the remains of the encampment, as tractors scooped up the debris.

The opposition's main election candidate condemned the actions of the police.

"The authorities are destroying freedom, truth and justice. There was only enough democracy for three days and this shows the essence of the regime that has been established in Belarus," Alexander Milinkevich told AP.

Mr Milinkevich said it was unlikely that the protestors would give up and said a huge demonstration was being planned for 25 March.

That day marks the anniversary of a short-lived 1918 declaration of the first independent Belarusian state - a traditional day for opposition rallies.

"On that day we will make known the long-term plans of the opposition," Mr Milinkevich warned.

The US expressed its concern over the decision to stop the protests.

"We are disturbed by the break-up of demonstrations and the detention of protestors in Belarus," State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said in a statement.

"As we have said before, we condemn all acts by the government of Belarus to deprive the citizens of that country their right to peacefully express their views," the statement continued.

Landslide victory

President Lukashenko's election victory drew mixed reactions.

He won 82.6% of the vote, securing a third five-year term in office.

However, the opposition and some international observers said the vote was unfair and flawed.

Austria's foreign minister, Ursula Plassnik, said the opposition had been "intimidated" and "hindered".

But an observer mission from the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States described the election as open and transparent.

Mr Lukashenko said the poll was fair and democratic and called the complaints about it "absurd".

He has also warned there would be no 'Orange Revolution' which brought about a change of regime in neighbouring Ukraine.

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See the protesters being taken away by police


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