Women have formed human chains in Belarus to condemn a crackdown on protests as demonstrations over the disputed election entered a fifth day.

Many dressed in white and carried flowers as they called for an end to police brutality.

Unrest erupted after long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko was declared winner in a vote condemned by the EU and US as neither free nor fair.

Thousands of people have been arrested and at least two have died.

In the latest official figures, the interior ministry said police had detained 700 people during protests on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 6700.

Some detainees were released on Thursday. Tearful relatives gathered outside a jail north of the capital Minsk, hoping to be reunited with their loved ones or for information on their whereabouts.

Several strikes have been reported at state-owned factories, where workers object to the violent treatment of protesters. Hundreds of employees were seen walking out at truck-maker Belaz, in Zhodino to the north-east of the capital.

Women in their thousands formed “solidarity chains” in Minsk and other cities as protests went into a fifth day. Participants told reporters they wanted a peaceful resolution, as they called for all detained protesters to be freed.

During the afternoon, women marched in big numbers down the main thoroughfare in Minsk, Independence Avenue, accompanied by a chorus of hooting cars.

Video footage shared on social media showed opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova joining the female protesters in Minsk, holding a bunch of flowers.

She was one of three women who pooled their resources to spearhead the opposition. The other two have left the country.

Veronika Tsepkalo fled Belarus on the day of the vote while the main opposition candidate in the election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was briefly detained on Monday before being forced to leave for Lithuania.

Tikhanovskaya, 37, released a video saying she made the “very difficult decision” to leave because of her children.

The opposition candidate was a stay-at-home mother until she entered the race after her husband was arrested and blocked from registering for the vote.

She became Lukashenko’s toughest opposition challenge in years, leading large rallies in the lead up to the vote.

But Lukashenko dismissed her bid, saying a woman could not lead Belarus.

“Our constitution is not for women,” he said earlier this year. “Our society has not matured enough to vote for a woman. This is because by constitution the president handles a lot of power.”

Nobel literature laureate Svetlana Alexievich accused the authorities of declaring war on their own people and urged Lukashenko to stand down.

Aged 65, he has ruled the former Soviet country since 1994 and has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from abroad.

As protests continued on Thursday, some workers organised strikes and walkouts in Minsk, Grodno in the west and Zhodino.

Medics walked out of hospitals for a second day to join the demonstrations and performers from the Belarusian State Philharmonic held up a message saying “Philharmonia prays for the people”.

Russian internet giant Yandex said armed individuals had entered two of its offices in Minsk and barred employees inside from leaving. They left some hours later.

What else has been happening?

Election officials said Lukashenko won 80 percent of the vote on Sunday, but protests erupted amid widespread allegations of vote rigging.

Hundreds of people have been injured in a police crackdown on protests, some seriously. A BBC crew was attacked by police on Tuesday evening.

Officials have confirmed the deaths of two people.

One demonstrator died during a protest in the capital Minsk on Monday. The Belarusian interior ministry alleged an explosive device had gone off in his hand.

Ambassadors from European countries laid flowers on Thursday where he died, a day before EU foreign ministers were due to consider imposing sanctions on Belarus.

A 25-year-old man also died in the south-eastern city of Gomel.

His mother told Radio Free Europe that her son had not taken part in any protests and was arrested as he was going to see his girlfriend. She said he had heart problems and was kept for hours in a police van.

People have been shouting the words “get out” from their balconies, the same slogan used by protesters on the ground. Police responded by firing rubber bullets.

The United Nations has condemned the use of violence by authorities.

Video footage shared on social media has shown ex-special forces officers throwing their uniforms into bins in disgust at the actions of their former colleagues.

“I was proud of the unit I served [in]. Now I am ashamed. Shame on everyone who follows such orders,” one former officer said.

– BBC