Belarusian police carried out arrests of protesters attending a banned demonstration in the capital Minsk on Saturday amid a rising wave of discontent challenging the country's authoritarian government.
Amnesty International on March 24 called on Belarusian authorities to "ensure that rallies planned in the capital, Minsk, and elsewhere on Freedom Day, March 25, are allowed to go ahead unhindered by excessive use of police force or arbitrary detentions of peaceful protesters such as those witnessed in recent weeks". "I was able to run to a nearby courtyard", demonstrator Alexander Ponomarev said.
The EU also voiced concerns over detentions of peaceful citizens, journalists and also a raid on an office of the Viasna human rights center.
On Saturday morning, police raided the offices of the prominent human rights group Vyasna and briefly detained around 60 people.
Lukashenko said that people who worked fewer than 183 days a year would be exempt from the tax and those who paid it last year would be compensated after finding a job.
Belarus' riot police arrested hundreds of demonstrators and dozens of journalists Saturday in a police crackdown that seemed created to prevent the spread of public discontent over the declining economy and the autocratic government of President Alexander Lukashenko.
According to tut.by, Russian photojournalist Anton Karliner, reporters of Belarus' Nasha Niva newspaper Irina Arakhovskaya and Artyom Garbatsevich, journalists of the Belsat TV channel Anna Bodyako and Alexandra Borozenko were detained as well.
The anti-government protests also attracted hundreds of people Saturday in Brest and Grodno, two other large cities.
Protesters shouted "fascists!" at riot police.
Belarus has seen an unusually persistent wave of protests over the past two months against Lukashenko, who recently claimed that a "fifth column" of foreign-supported agitators was trying to bring him down. No arrests were immediately reported.
President Alexander Lukashenko isn't one to tolerate dissent in the authoritarian former Soviet republic.
Earlier this month Lukashenko announced that he would suspend the deadline for payment until his government had reviewed the policy, but protest against his Soviet-style rule has continued to grow. But the protests have broadened into general dissatisfaction with his rule, which some critics have characterized as Europe's last dictatorship.