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Belarus protests kick off with detentions, police chases

MOSCOW, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Security forces in Minsk detained 52 people on Sunday, a human rights watch group said, ahead of anti-government protests that have taken place every weekend since a disputed August election returned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to power.

Videos shared by independent local media showed members of the security services armed with batons chasing after some individuals in a public square, then rounding them up and putting them into vehicles. Reuters was not able to independently verify the footage.

The Viasna Human Rights Centre, which is not registered in Belarus, said 52 people had been detained.

Russian news agency TASS cited a spokeswoman for the Minsk branch of the Belarus interior ministry, Natalya Ganusevich, as saying that around 10 people had been detained.

As has become the norm in Minsk ahead of protest days, mobile phone internet services were disrupted, some main streets were closed and several metro stations in the city centre were shut. On Sunday, this included all four metro stations of a new line that had only opened on Saturday.

A few thousand people gathered by a monument in central Minsk for the start of Sunday’s march, local media reported. The crowd was subsequently dispersed by police and splintered off into several columns marching through the city.

The country is in a political crisis as tens of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets each week since the Aug. 9 election, calling for Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, to resign. Thousands of people have been arrested at the demonstrations and rights groups say hundreds of detainees have reported being subjected to beatings and other abuse.

Belarus told the United Nations on Monday it was not investigating a single allegation of police abuse, despite coming under Western criticism since the election for violent crackdowns on anti-government demonstrators.

On Saturday, 60 doctors and other medical staff who had gathered for a rally were detained, according to human rights group Viasna. (Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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