Belarus Protesters Steadfast

Demonstrators protesting against the re-election of hardline Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko have vowed to remain in the city centre until a major rally planned for the weekend, in what has become the biggest challenge to the authoritarian Moscow-backed regime.

Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich called for a massive pro-democracy rally on Saturday, which is traditionally celebrated by the opponents of Mr Lukasehnko?s government as Freedom Day in Belarus.

"We will meet every day until the 25th. This is a very important meeting. Tell your family and friends to come," Mr Milinkevich told a crowd of around 3,000 protesters rallying in Oktyabrskaya Square for a third day.

March 25 is an unofficial holiday celebrated by the opposition that commemorates the founding of a short-lived independent People's Republic of Belarus in 1918 and is not recognised by the regime.

About 300 demonstrators had camped overnight, dancing and singing to thumping rock music and sustained by supplies of potato pancakes, hot drinks and warm clothes from well-wishers.

When another opposition candidate, Alexander Kozulin, called on demonstrators to disperse, warning of imminent police action, the young demonstrators shouted him down.

Protesters arrested

Mr Lukashenko has threatened to "break the neck" of any pro-democracy protest movement following his landslide victory in Sunday's election which has been condemned by European observers and the United States.

A local human rights advocacy group, Visna, said that 108 people had been arrested in different incidents.

Black-clad officers from a special police unit patrolled the city in the morning and turned away several people trying to bring food for the protesters.

Five European ambassadors from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Latvia joined protestors on the icy square in the Belarussian capital in a mark of solidarity with the demonstration.

The ambassadors visited a small tent camp on Oktyabrskaya Square that had been set up in defiance of threats by the authorities that demonstrators would be treated as "terrorists".

The diplomats held talks with protesters and were surrounded by more than 1,000 opposition supporters.

"This assembly is totally peaceful and I don't think this poses any threat to public order," said Stephane Shmelevsky, France's ambassador to the capital Minsk.

The intervention by Western ambassadors marked a new low in relations between Mr Lukashenko and the West, which has poured criticism on Sunday's election of the Belarussian leader, often dubbbed the "last dictator in Europe", to a third term in office.

The vote was judged by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to have failed to meet international standards, and Washington said it would look at possible sanctions against the regime.

Mr Lukashenko has insisted he can resist Western pressure, such as a threat to extend a list of senior Belarussian officials forbidden from entering the EU.