Riot police in Belarus detained hundreds of women, including a great-grandmother who has become an icon of the protest movement, during marches in Minsk today.

The rallies are in opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko's 26-year rule.

The protest was the latest in which Belarusian women have taken to the streets with flowers and flags.

The numbers detained Saturday were far higher than the previous week's rally. The women were seized by riot police in black uniforms and balaclavas as well as officers in khaki uniforms and plain-clothed officers in face masks.

Police blocked the women and began pulling them into police vans as they stood with linked hands, swiftly detaining hundreds, an AFP journalist saw.

Police lifted some women off their feet in order to remove them.

The Viasna rights group published online the names of 328 women detained, while police spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told AFP the number detained would be announced Sunday.

Police detained so many protesters that they ran out of room in vans, the opposition's Coordination Council said.

Around two thousand women took part in the "Sparkly March", wearing shiny accessories and carrying red-and-white flags of the protest movement.
 

Among those detained on Saturday was Nina Baginskaya, a 73-year-old activist who has become one of the best-known faces of the protest movement, known for her plucky antics and regularly celebrated with a chant of "Nina! Nina!".

Police took away the flag and flowers she was carrying as they pushed her into a van but released her outside a police station shortly afterwards.

The march was the latest in a series of all-women protests calling for the strongman to leave following his disputed victory in elections last month.

His opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya also claimed victory.

Tikhanovskaya, who has taken shelter in Lithuania, condemned the "arbitrary" detentions, saying police without any identifying badges had "roughly detained en masse beautiful and brave women who were protesting lawfully and peacefully."

The women's protests began in Belarus after Lukashenko's use of extreme violence against detained demonstrators.

Women began forming human chains and marching through Minsk and other cities wearing white clothes and carrying flowers in peaceful demonstrations that police initially allowed to go ahead.

Last weekend, police violently detained several dozen at a similar women's protest.

President Lukashenko last week warned of a possible "war" with some neighbouring countries and has turned to Russia for support after refusing to step down.