Retirees protest Belarus leader amid crackdown on protests

Hundreds of retirees rallied in the Belarusian capital on Monday against the country's authoritarian leader, as security forces moved in to break up the traditional weekly march.

The crowd of retirees in Minsk were demanding that President Alexander Lukashenko resign after he won a sixth term in office in an election the opposition says was rigged. But they ran into police cordons along the march route and broke up into smaller groups that went into different directions.

The demonstrators carried red and white umbrellas and flags that have become the symbol of the protests, and chanted “Rat, go away!”

“Grandmothers and grandfathers will go all the way to a victory,” one banner read.

Mass protests have gripped Belarus, a former Soviet republic in eastern Europe, since official results from the Aug. 9 presidential election gave Lukashenko a landslide victory over his widely popular opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She and her supporters refused to recognize the result, saying the vote was riddled with fraud.

Authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people. Police have used stun grenades, tear gas and truncheons to disperse the rallies. Thousands of people have been detained — and many of them badly beaten — since the protests began, human rights advocates say.

Mass detentions, as well as the use of tear gas and stun grenades, continued even as protests have grown smaller this month. On Sunday, police detained 313 people during rallies spanning several cities, including Minsk. The Viasna human rights center put the number of detainees at 424.

At least nine people were detained on Monday, according to Viasna. Footage and photos of the Monday rally posted on social media showed security forces surrounding groups of retirees, preventing the march from continuing.

“Don't beat me, son,” another banner carried by demonstrators read.

Read all AP stories about the protests in Belarus at https://apnews.com/Belarus.