Europe

Spate of protests breaks out in Belarus

  • People gather for a protest rally in downtown Minsk, Belarus, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Several thousand demonstrators gathered to protest against a law that imposes a tax on those not in full-time employment. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    People gather for a protest rally in downtown Minsk, Belarus, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Several thousand demonstrators gathered to protest against a law that imposes a tax on those not in full-time employment. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 file photo, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend the talks in Minsk, Belarus. In more than two decades in power, the autocratic leader of Belarus has cast his nation as Moscow's closest ally, securing tens of billions of dollars in Russian subsidies. Now, the Kremlin finally seems to have lost patience with its unruly ally. (Yekaterina Shtukina/Pool Photo via AP, File)

    FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 file photo, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend the talks in Minsk, Belarus. In more than two decades in power, the autocratic leader of Belarus has cast his nation as Moscow's closest ally, securing tens of billions of dollars in Russian subsidies. Now, the Kremlin finally seems to have lost patience with its unruly ally. (Yekaterina Shtukina/Pool Photo via AP, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • People gather for a protest rally in downtown Minsk, Belarus, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Several thousand demonstrators gathered to protest against a law that imposes a tax on those not in full-time employment. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    People gather for a protest rally in downtown Minsk, Belarus, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Several thousand demonstrators gathered to protest against a law that imposes a tax on those not in full-time employment. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)  (The Associated Press)

News media in Belarus are reporting sizable protests in five cities against an unpopular labor law that obliges citizens to pay the equivalent of $250 if they work less than half the year and do not register with state labor exchanges.

The protests Sunday were an unusually widespread expression of discontent in the authoritarian former Soviet republic. They focused on the 2-year-old "anti-sponging" law, but demonstrators also expressed dissatisfaction with the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko has been in office since 1994.

News portals said thousands of people protested in Gomel, Belarus' second-largest city. Smaller demonstrations were held in four other cities. No arrests were reported, although police frequently crack down on unsanctioned rallies.

A protest in Minsk on Friday drew about 2,500 in the biggest opposition action since 2011.