MINSK, Belarus - Hundreds of people rallied in the Belarus capital, challenging the authorities' increasing threats against protesters with children, while police detained more than 200 women at a weekly march against President Alexander Lukashenko's 26-year rule.
A crowd gathered outside a shelter for endangered children, demanding a first-grader be reunited with his mother, Alena Lazarchyk. He was taken there when she was detained Thursday for an identification check and failed to collect him from school, she said.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki criticized Belarusian authorities for using children as "political hostages," saying on Twitter he was "shocked and appalled."
Lukashenko, who faces international censure for the disputed Aug. 9 election and the initial violent crackdown on protesters, has dug in after gaining support from his neighbor Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two met in person in the southern Russian city of Sochi on Monday. The government has increased pressure, targeting opposition leaders with detentions and forced expulsion from the country.
The Belarusian Prosecutor General's Office said Sept. 13 that protesters who bring underage children with them to public demonstrations may be stripped of their parental rights, Belta reported, citing the head of the children's protection unit. The warning follows comments from Deputy Prime Minister Ihar Pyatryshenka last week that participating in protests with children puts them danger, the state-run news service reported.
The boy, Artsiom, had been kept at the center since Thursday when Lazarchyk failed to pick up him from school or answer her phone. Lazarchyk said she'd been taken in for an identity check on Thursday and held until 11 p.m. without access to her mobile phone.
The shelter's management wouldn't return Artsiom to his mother without permission from the authorities because she'd temporarily lost parental rights in the past, state-owned news agency Minsk Novosti reported, citing the center's director Marina Stankevich. The center declined to comment to Bloomberg.
"I'm crying my eyes out," Lazarchyk told the crowd Saturday before the center allowed her to take Artsiom home.
Lazarchyk told reporters she had temporarily lost care of an older son once, linking it to her activism. More recently, she spent three days in prison in June after being found guilty of taking part in a unsanctioned rally before the election, she said by phone.
Across the city, at the weekly women's march, police detained more than 200 women, according to the Viasna human rights center. Videos on news site Tut.by showed dozens being loaded into police vans, including 73-year-old Nina Bahinskaya, who's become a social media hero for confronting riot police during the past month of protests. She was released almost immediately.
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