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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition Leaders Detained for Rally in Minsk

APBelarussian riot police breaking up the unsanctioned opposition rally in a park in the center of Minsk on Friday.
MINSK -- Police detained about 20 opposition activists in Minsk who were trying to stage an unsanctioned rally Friday.

Police officers encircled the main square of the capital, preventing the opposition from gathering there. Authorities also prevented opposition activists from trying to assemble in a nearby park.

Officers rounded up Anatoly Lebedko, the head of the United Civic Party, and other opposition leaders.

"Repression can't stop the Belarussians striving for freedom," Viktor Ivashkevich, one of the leaders of the Belarussian Popular Front who also was among the detained, told The Associated Press.

Another nine opposition activists had been detained earlier this week.

Police refused to comment on the detentions.

Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, quashing dissent, closing down opposition media and cracking down on private business. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions against him and top members of his government.

The 2004 referendum scrapped presidential term limits and gave Lukashenko the go-ahead to seek a third term in 2006, prompting days of protests by opposition parties and youth activists. Lukashenko's win in last year's presidential election was widely criticized by opposition groups and Western observers as flawed.