Updated at 22:23,21-06-2017

Belarus protest draws 400 despite main organizer's arrest

By ASSOCIATED PRESS / Mail Online

Belarus protest draws 400 despite main organizer's arrest
A protester holds a poster reading 'Freedom for the people' and an old Belarus flag, a symbol of protest, during an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, May 1, 2017. The protesters marched through central Minsk calling for the government to step down and for free elections to be held. (AP Photo)
An opposition protest in Belarus' capital drew about 400 people on Monday even though the event was officially banned and its main organizer was arrested over the weekend.

However, police stood by and allowed the protesters to march through the center of Minsk while calling for the government to step down and for free elections to be held.

Nikolai Statkevich, one of the most prominent figures in Belarus' beleaguered opposition, was arrested on Saturday. His wife, Maria Adamovich, said police told her he would be jailed for five days.

The rights organization Vesna said other activists also were arrested to prevent them from participating in the protest.

The protesters lit flares and carried the banned white, red and white-striped flag that represents a free Belarus.

Belarus has been led since 1994 by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has suppressed his opponents.

Statkevich ran against Lukashenko in the 2010 election and was arrested after a large demonstration protesting the results. He spent the next five years in prison.
Another former presidential candidate, Vladimir Neklyaev, said during Monday's demonstration that "only free and fair elections can change the situation in the last dictatorship in Europe."