Thousands of protesters formed human chains and marched in Belarus  in a growing wave of peaceful demonstrations over President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed re-election and an ensuing brutal police crackdown. 

Russia claimed the protests were being orchestrated from abroad to destabilise its ex-Soviet neighbour while European countries condemned police violence and backed fresh sanctions against Lukashenko. 

Men and women, many wearing white and holding flowers, took to the streets of the capital Minsk to protest against police brutality during four nights of unrest since Sunday's vote. 

President Lukashenko's opponents accuse him of rigging the election to defeat his main rival, popular opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has left the ex-Soviet country for neighbouring Lithuania. 

Protesters took to the streets across the country to contest the vote results but police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and, in at least one case, live fire to disperse protesters. 

At least two people have died and hundreds have been wounded in the violence. 

Police in Belarus detained about 700 people during a fourth night of protests the interior ministry said.

"Some 700 people have been detained for participating in illegal mass events" yesterday, the ministry said in a statement, bringing the total number of people detained to 6,700.

Last night, the Belarusian authorities confirmed the death of a jailed protester.

The Belarusian Investigative Committee said in a statement that a 25-year-old man died after he was detained on Sunday for taking part in illegal protests in the southeastern city of Gomel and sentenced to 10 days in prison.

Investigators said the cause of death was unclear, while Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted the man's mother as saying he had heart problems and was held for hours in a police van.

She said her son, Alexander Vikhor, was not taking part in protests and had gone to meet his girlfriend.

Previously police said one protester died when an explosive device went off in his hand on Monday.

"The riot police are beating up people, brutally beating them, and all we can do is come out for such a peaceful protest," said 29-year-old protester Darya, who works in advertising.

Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Literature Prize, condemned the police violence and urged Mr Lukashenko to go peacefully in her first interview since the protests broke out.

"Leave before it's too late, before you've thrown people into a terrible abyss, into the abyss of civil war," she told her long-term opponent in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Western governments criticise ongoing violence

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet accused Belarus of deploying "unnecessary and excessive force".

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was "very worried" while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the European Union to "take action," saying: "We want the people of Belarus to have the freedoms that they are demanding."

EU foreign ministers are set to discuss Belarus at an extraordinary meeting tomorrow.

The protests broke out after authorities said Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80% of the vote in Sunday's election.

The interior ministry reported more than 6,000 detentions after the first three days of protests.

Protesters and witnesses said riot police have used indiscriminate force, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets.

State television aired footage of detained young protesters with bloodied and bruised faces being asked if they wanted a "revolution".

Mr Lukashenko, 65, has dismissed the demonstrators as "people with a criminal past who are now unemployed" and told them to get jobs.


Read more:
Belarus protester dies as UN condemns violent crackdown

EU says Belarus vote not free, threatens sanctions
Timeline of election turmoil in Belarus


Police acknowledged opening fire on protesters and wounding one in the southwestern city of Brest on the Polish border on Tuesday night.

They said the demonstrators were armed with metal bars and ignored warning shots.

The protest movement arose in support of Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who ran for president after potential opposition candidates including her husband were jailed.

The official results gave her 10% of the popular vote, but Ms Tikhanovskaya said the election was rigged and claimed victory, demanding that Mr Lukashenko hand over power.

She left Belarus for neighbouring Lithuania on Tuesday as allies said she came under official pressure.

Ms Tikhanovskaya "is recovering from this stress ... and feels better," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Russia's Echo of Moscow radio station.

"She herself will say what her future plans are."