Belarusian police, demonstrators clash

Minsk - Belarusian police and demonstrators clashed early Tuesday, witnesses said.

The brief shoving match took place well after midnight Tuesday (2300 GMT Monday) in October Square in the centre of the Belarusian capital Minsk.

The conflict took place after some 20 uniformed police moved toward a tent encampment set up by anti-government forces late Monday in the square.

Opposition activists had pitched five tents in the capital's main square Monday night to protest elections that gave authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko a third term.

Punches were thrown between police and the activists for a few minutes before the two groups separated. Roughly 100 anti-government demonstrators were in the vicinity of the encampment when the fracas occurred, according to an eyewitness.

It was not immediately clear whether the police unit was testing the will of the activists to resist or actually attempting to break up the encampment.

Police had initially allowed the tent encampment to go up, limiting their objections to a request that demonstrators stop singing after at 11 p.m. Monday evening, as it violated Minsk city codes banning loud music in residential areas during the night.

The protestors complied with the request.

Lukashenko has threatened the use of police force against protestors, but police officials on the scene Monday evening said their intention was 'to prevent conflict.'

The tents were erected on the second day of protests against the Lukashenko regime. Yury Podobed, Belarus police chief, called the encampment a 'gross violation of public order law.'

Aleksander Milinkevich, leader of the Belarusian opposition, told a crowd of some 3,000 the anti-government demonstrations that their protests 'would be for the long term.'

Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 took hold, in part, because thousands of students erected a tent village in the centre of the Ukrainian capital after a fixed election.

Milinkevich called on Belarusian students to do the same and bring tents and sleeping bags to October Square.

In a speech to students in the tents, Milinkevich seemed to concede that the Lukashenko government would move to tear down the encampment, calling on the students to defend the tents as best they could.