Belarusian police detain dozens of doctors ahead of anti-government rally

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belarusian police on Saturday detained dozens of medical professionals who had planned to take part in an anti-government protest in the capital Minsk, a prominent human rights group said.

Viasna, which is based in Minsk, said 60 doctors and other medical staff who had gathered for a rally were taken to police stations.

Natalia Ganusevich, a spokeswoman for the Minsk police, confirmed that some of the demonstrators had been detained and called on the population not to take part in unauthorized protests, TASS news agency reported.

At least 14 people were detained at a separate women's march on Saturday in the Belarusian capital, Viasna said.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko is facing a weeks-long political crisis in which tens of thousands of Belarusians have regularly taken to the streets of Minsk calling for him to resign.

Thousands of people have been arrested at demonstrations since a disputed Aug. 9 presidential election. Rights groups say hundreds of detainees reported being subjected to beatings and other abuse.

The opposition has accused Lukashenko of rigging the election that granted him a sixth term.

A former collective farm manager in power since 1994, he has rejected that accusation and ignored the opposition's calls for him to step down.

The 66-year-old has faced strong criticism from the medical community and general population for having resisted calls for strict lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

He publicly dismissed fears about COVID-19 as a "psychosis" and recommended remedies such as drinking vodka, taking saunas and playing ice hockey.

The former Soviet country of 9.5 million has so far reported 105,283 cases, with 1,004 deaths.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Clelia Oziel)