Belarus protests take to streets

Several thousand protesters in the Belarus capital Minsk are holding a spontaneous rally over the disputed presidential election.

They moved in to the main streets after special forces closed off October Square, the site of a tented protest camp cleared away by police on Friday.

Several hundred police have been slowly pushing back the protesters, some of whom are chanting "Long Live Belarus".

The atmosphere is tense but there is no violence so far, correspondents report.

The authorities appear determined not to allow another day of opposition protests, the BBC's Emma Simpson in Minsk says.

We are already in Okrestin [prison], standing outside in freezing weather, everything is ok

Earlier, police used megaphones to tell protesters that October Square was closed while diggers cleared away ice from the area.

Prison trucks, ambulances and vehicles carrying police reinforcements were spotted down nearby side streets.

Security forces have been hemming protesters into groups and pushing them away from the square.

At one point some protesters stopped the traffic but were quickly swooped on by the police.

The main opposition leader, Alexander Milinkevich, who called for the protest, urged supporters to gather at a nearby park instead.

'Police beatings'

Saturday's demonstration was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the declaration of independence of the short-lived Belarussian republic in 1918.

A five-day sit-in protest in October Square by opposition supporters was broken up by the security forces early on Friday.

Several hundred demonstrators were arrested, with some claiming they were beaten as they were transported to detention centres.

Police "beat those who were the most active and those who were resisting," one high school student told the Associated Press, claiming he was punched in the legs and the back of his head.

'Travel restrictions'

International monitors have strongly criticised last Sunday's poll that saw President Alexander Lukashenko take 82.6% of the vote, securing his third seven-year term in office.

Belarus insists Mr Lukashenko's win was fair.

Russia has not criticised the election and accused the OCSE, which monitored the election, of inflaming tensions.

White House press spokesman Scott McClellan said on Friday that the Bush administration would apply additional "targeted sanctions" against some governmental officials.

No time frame was given, but the sanctions are expected to take the form of travel restrictions and some financial penalties.

Earlier, EU leaders issued a declaration saying that the bloc would "take restrictive measures against those responsible for the violation of international electoral standards".

The measures have yet to be agreed, but EU officials said they would probably include a travel ban against Mr Lukashenko.