( dpa ) - Belarusian police using clubs on Tuesday attacked and broke up a major demonstration by opposition forces, witnesses said.
Armoured troopers from the OMON anti-riot police tore into the crowd during the early evening. Wholesale arrests of participants, and journalists covering the incident were reported.
Law enforcers used clubs to break the crowd of an estimated 2,000 into four groups, and began detaining any one they could catch.
Persons even resisting slightly were clubbed immediately. Television and still cameras carried by participants and media alike were being smashed by law enforcers if they could find them, witnesses said.
Demonstrators attempting to escape the police were chased down on sidewalks and even apartment building courtyards. Police transport vehicles were removing arrestees from the centre of the city, but their destination was not being made public.
The clash came after protestors gathered at Yakub Kolos Square, where the government had sanctioned a march, attempted to move to the centre of the Belarusian capital.
Some marchers had been carrying banned red-and-white former Belarusian national flag, and European Union flags, prior to the police assault.
"We will use more force than usual this year," said Vladimir Naumov, Belarus' Interior Minister, only hours before the street fighting broke out. "I guarantee we will keep order in the city."
Access to the centrally-located Oktiabr Square, a traditional gathering site for anti-government protests, had been blocked all day by police barricades and lock-down of the underground rail station in the vicinity.
Uniformed police also were stationed at the doors of homes of opposition leaders, and preventing them from attending the demonstration, said Anatoly Lebedko, an opposition leader.
The March 25 demonstration is an annual event originally intended to mark Belarus' short-lived independence in the wake of World War One, before conquest by the Soviet Union.
Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, a supporter of the Soviet Union, has spoken out against March 25 demonstrations as disloyal to the Belarusian state, making the gathering a traditional face-off between opposition forces, and police.
A former collective farm boss, Lukashenko has cracked down on opponents in recent years, but has failed to eliminate a small but dogged opposition made up primarily of students, small businessmen, and non-Orthodox Christians.