Belarus releases detainees in bid to quell protests

To try and tamp down protests in Belarus authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko issued a rare apology on Thursday (August 13) and released thousands of people detained during days of rallies against his election win.

In the early hours of Friday, relatives waited outside the detention center in the capital Minsk for their loved ones to be released.

Lukashenko's gesture to let them go underscores the vulnerability of his hold over the country.

Some were in tears, others cheered when walking free.

At least two have died and around 6,700 people were detained this week in a crackdown following Lukashenko's re-election, continuing his 26-year rule.

Protesters accuse Lukashenko of rigging the election.

Despite his apology on Thursday, protests continued with cars beeping and chants in the street.

The people being released described being tightly packed into cells.

"The cell is designed for five people. Initially there were 25 of us there, after that they started adding and taking away groups around five people, like a factory line. The whole night you could hear people being beaten outside."

Reuters could not independently verify his account, but some showed bruises and described mistreatement:

"I was pushed in a police truck. They told me "Either you go with us for 15 days, or we beat your legs up and let you go."

Workers from state-run industrial plants also joined protests on Thursday, as tens of thousands took to the street, many of the factories are the pride Lukashenko's Soviet-style economic model.

Meanwhile, Germany called for increasuring pressure on Belarus, and have talked of sanctions.

In neighbouring Poland, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the EU office in Warsaw shouting "we want fair elections" .

Among them was Maksym Chernyavski, a student who fled from Belarus after being detained and interrogated by security forces.

Blacklisted from entering Belarus he began a hunger strike on Thursday, in solidarity with the people protesting in the streets on Minsk.

EU foreign ministers are to meet on Friday (August 14) to discuss Belarus.