Police in Belarus detained some 40 protesters Wednesday for clapping their hands and stomping their feet during a demonstration against the authoritarian policies of the president on the 17th anniversary of his rule.
An Associated Press reporter and photographer saw police beating some of those who were rounded up.
Public discontent is swelling as Belarus experiences its worst financial crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. The country recently devalued the national currency, causing panic buying of goods and huge lines at currency exchange offices.
Much blame is directed at Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West dubbed "Europe's last dictator," for increasing public sector salaries in pre-election populism last year when the country could ill-afford it.
"After 17 years in power, Lukashenko has brought the country to a catastrophic situation, where people can't even clap their hands," said protester Artur Stankevich who was on his way to a central square in the Belarus capital, Minsk.
This was the ninth Wednesday in a row that protesters held a rally. Authorities have banned the demonstrations that feature novel forms of non-vocal protest _ and thus are dubbed "silent" rallies _ and have used brutal force and tear gas to eliminate resistance.
More than 1,500 protesters have been detained and sentenced to fines or 15 days in jail since the start of the "silent protests."
On Wednesday, about 200 protesters clapped their hands and stopped their feet at three locations in central Minsk. Plainclothes security officers and riot police interrupted each round of clapping and stomping by kicking and punching the protesters before forcing them into unmarked vans.
"Laugh and applause have become a cause for arrest in Belarus _ that's the outcome of Lukashenko's rule," 20-year-old protester Dmitri Buyanov said while being detained.
Several organizers of the protests that have been organized through social networking websites were detained shortly before the rally, human rights group Vyasna said.
Lukashenko was inaugurated as Belarus' president in 1994 and has won three re-elections that Western observers said were flawed and unfair. After last December's vote, Lukashenko orchestrated a violent crackdown on opposition and critics that led to massive arrests and convictions.
He is increasingly under pressure from Russia and the West. Moscow has been pushing for greater control over the Belarusian economy in exchange for loans to help Lukashenko's government weather the financial turmoil, while the European Union has threatened to expand sanctions imposed on Lukashenko as punishment for his crackdown on the opposition.