MINSK - Belarus police broke up a march by the opposition in the capital Minsk on Sunday and beat its leader Vladimir Neklyayev, a Reuters eyewitness said.
The demonstrators had been heading for the city's October Square where they planned to protest against the almost certain re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in a Sunday vote.
A press spokeswoman for Neklyayev, a 64-year-old poet and one of the main opposition candidates running against Lukashenko, said he had been taken to hospital unconscious and was being treated for head injuries.
"He was beaten. He is unconscious and was taken to hospital. Initial assessment is that he has suffered a frontal head injury of medium seriousness," Yulia Rimashevskaya, Neklyayev's press aide told Reuters.
A column of protesters, supporting Neklyayev's Tell the Truth movement, were confronted by police who barred their way as they headed for October Square, the eyewitness said.
Police moved in on the protesters after Neklyayev asked them to move out of the way, he said.
Riot police fired shots in the air and launched stun grenades to disperse the demonstrators. Reporters and cameramen were driven away by black-clothed security forces who hurled snow at them.
State security forces said on Saturday that they would crack down decisively on any group that tried to "whip up tension" during the election.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)