Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Thousands of women have become the leaders of daily protests in Belarus against a contested election now in their fifth week.
The Minsk demonstrations continued Saturday against the re-election of incumbent authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenka for a sixth term Aug. 9.
Thousands gathered in the center of Minsk for a march as riot police warned that the protest was not sanctioned. Officers arrested dozens of women, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty's Belarus Service reported.
Protesters took to the streets the day after the election, saying the vote was rigged. Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhandovskaya rejected the results.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also rejected Lukashenko's election, calling it "fraudulent," in a statement. He also accused Belarusian authorities last month of violently suppressing the peaceful protests.
The United States, Switzerland, and the European Union have expressed support for protesters in a joint statement and condemned Belarusian officers' "brutal and disproportionate use of force."
European leaders planned new sanctions against Belarus, such as visa bans and asset freezes, but Cyprus stalled them after entangling the issue with its separate quarrels with Turkey. The United States is also preparing sanctions, according to a senior U.S. official, which should be ready in a few days.
Earlier this week, the United States called on Belarusian authorities to release all political detainees, including opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, one of three female activists who formed the Belarusian Coordination Council seeking to annul Lukashenko's re-election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has backed Lukashenka, who has refused to give up power.
Power is "not given away," he told state prosecutors in Minsk on Thursday.