Europe

Belarus activists arrested before planned protest

  • Belarus police detain a woman prior to an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, March 25, 2017. Over the past two months, protests have broken out across the country of 9.5 million, sometimes attracting thousands — initially they were focused on the labor law but have grown to encompass calls for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, whom critics call Europe's last dictator. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Belarus police detain a woman prior to an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, March 25, 2017. Over the past two months, protests have broken out across the country of 9.5 million, sometimes attracting thousands — initially they were focused on the labor law but have grown to encompass calls for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, whom critics call Europe's last dictator. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)  (The Associated Press)

  • A line of police vehicles is seen through a car window prior to an opposition action in Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, March 25, 2017. The initial protests focused on the labor law but have grown to encompass calls for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, whom critics call Europe's last dictator. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    A line of police vehicles is seen through a car window prior to an opposition action in Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, March 25, 2017. The initial protests focused on the labor law but have grown to encompass calls for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, whom critics call Europe's last dictator. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)  (The Associated Press)

  • Belarus police detain an activist, center, prior to an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, March 25, 2017. Over the past two months, protests have broken out across the country of 9.5 million, sometimes attracting thousands — initially they were focused on the labor law but have grown to encompass calls for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, whom critics call Europe's last dictator. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Belarus police detain an activist, center, prior to an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, March 25, 2017. Over the past two months, protests have broken out across the country of 9.5 million, sometimes attracting thousands — initially they were focused on the labor law but have grown to encompass calls for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, whom critics call Europe's last dictator. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)  (The Associated Press)

Riot police in the Belarusian capital have raided the office of a human-rights group hours ahead of an attempt by opposition activists to mount a large protest march.

Authorities banned the demonstration planned for Saturday afternoon and dozens of police detention trucks were deployed in the center of Minsk.

The authoritarian former Soviet republic has seen an unusually persistent wave of protests over the past two months against President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994. After tolerating the initial protests, authorities cracked down. Lukashenko this week alleged that a "fifth column" of foreign-supported agitators was trying to bring him down.

About midday Saturday, police raided the office of the Vesna human rights group. About 30 people were detained, said Oleg Gulak of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, another rights organization.