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Large protests in Belarus focus on spot where demonstrator died in clashes with police

Thousands of demonstrators in Belarus gathered Saturday at the spot in the capital of Minsk where a protester died in clashes with police, calling for authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to resign after 26 years in power.

It was the seventh-consecutive day of large protests against the results of the Aug. 9 presidential election in which election officials say Lukashenko won a sixth term in office.

Despite harsh police action against the protesters, including the detention of some 7,000 people, the demonstrations have swelled into the largest and most sustained protest wave since Lukashenko took power in 1994.

Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the protests in a call Saturday, the first publicly known direct contact between the two leaders since the election.

A Kremlin statement said Putin and Lukashenko both expressed hope for a quick resolution of the tensions.

A woman at Saturday’s rally in Minsk holds a photo of a protester who was beaten by police. (Dmitri Lovetsky/The Associated Press)

“It is important that these problems are not used by destructive forces aimed at causing injury to the co-operation of the two countries in the framework of the union state,” the Kremlin said.

Russia and Belarus reached an agreement in 1997 about closer ties between the neighbouring ex-Soviet countries in a union stopping short of a full merger — although that has collided with recent disputes between the countries and Luksashenko’s suspicions that Putin’s government wants to absorb Belarus.

A funeral was held Saturday for Alexander Taraikovsky, a 34-year-old protester who died Monday in Minsk under disputed circumstances. Belarusian police said he was killed when an explosive device he intended to throw at police blew up in his hand.

But his partner, Elena German, told The Associated Press that when she saw his body in a morgue on Friday, his hands showed no damage and he had a perforation in his chest that she believes is a bullet wound.

About 5,000 demonstrators gathered Saturday in the area where Taraikovsky died. There were no immediate reports of detentions.

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