Police fire warning shots in Belarus protests

Over 200 protesters were arrested in Belarus on Sunday, as tens of thousands defied warning shots and stun grenades fired by riot police -- and demanded President Alexander Lukashenko step down.

Mass demonstrations against Lukashenko have gripped the capital, Minsk, for 12 straight weeks, after a highly contested election which left the veteran leader in power.

Lukashenko rejects accusations the vote was rigged and says he has no intention of quitting.

And on Friday he sharpened his rhetoric against protesters.

"If someone touches a serviceman - I've already made a remark to the generals - he must leave at least without hands. I say this publicly so that everyone understands our determination. We have nowhere to retreat, and we are not going to retreat. Whether the protesters are ready or not - we shall act."

Last week Lukashenko partially closed the country's border to the west and replaced his interior minister in an attempt to tighten his grip on power.

That came as factory workers and students across Belarus answered an opposition call to launch a nationwide strike against him.

More than 16,000 people have been detained in the Belarusian crackdown so far, prompting Western nations to fire off a fresh round of sanctions against the country.