Belarus protests: Strikes expected as Lukashenko remains defiant

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Fresh strikes are expected in Belarus after a weekend which saw tens of thousands take to the streets to demand the departure of long-term President Alexander Lukashenko.

Opposition leaders called for the strikes as anger grew over reports of police violence as well as alleged poll-rigging in the 9 August vote.But the president, who claimed a landslide victory, remains defiant.On Sunday, he called on supporters to defend their country and independence.

However, protesters came call at far larger numbers, with local, independent news site Tut.by describing the peaceful demonstration as “the largest within the history of independent Belarus”.

The wave of anger has been rising since the Central committee said Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80.1% of the vote and therefore the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.12%.

Ms Tikhanovskaya, who left for Lithuania after publicly denouncing the results, insists that where votes were properly counted, she won support starting from 60% to 70%.

In a video message released on Monday, she says she is prepared to become a “national leader” so as to revive calm and normality, freeing political prisoners and preparing for brand spanking new elections.

Meanwhile, some 6,700 people are arrested within the wake of the election, and lots of have spoken of torture at the hands of the safety services.

State TV staff seemed to get on strike on Monday morning with a broadcast showing empty news desks, foreign journalists noted.

Workers at state-run factories walked call at solidarity with the protesters last week, and more strikes are planned for in the week , increasing the pressure on Mr Lukashenko, says the BBC’s Kiev correspondent, Jonah Fisher.

What happened on Sunday?
Rival rallies were held within the capital, with local media reports suggesting that around 31,000 people took part within the pro-government event. the inside ministry estimated that the amount was around 65,000, while a reporter for AFP press agency said the figure was closer to 10,000.

Speaking to supporters, Mr Lukashenko said Belarus would “die as a state” if a re-run of the election were to require place.

“You came here in order that for the primary time during a quarter-century you’ll defend your country, your independence, your wives, sisters and youngsters ,” he said.

He added that the opposition would “crawl like rats out of a hole” if they weren’t suppressed this point .

There were reports of state sector workers being forced to attend or face the threat of losing their jobs. For days, workers at state-run factories have staged walkouts and lots of have joined street marches against the president.

As the president spoke, around 220,000 anti-Lukashenko protesters gathered near the Stela Minsk Hero City war Two memorial in central Minsk, consistent with Tut.by.

Supporters also clothed in other cities, following a involve weekend rallies from Ms Tikhanovskaya.

A number of officials, also as current and former cops , have resigned.The Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya, declared his solidarity with the protesters but told the BBC the govt didn’t seem able to hear them.

What’s happening internationally?
President Lukashenko, who has led Belarus for 26 years, has also faced growing pressure from other European countries.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU should “continue to mobilise on the side of the many thousands of Belarusians who are protesting peacefully for the respect of their rights, liberty and sovereignty”.

Germany’s Vice-Chancellor Olaf Sholz described Mr Lukashenko as a “bad dictator”, telling the Bild newspaper that the Belarusian leader had “lost all legitimacy”.

Last week, EU foreign ministers agreed to organize new sanctions against Belarusian officials liable for “violence, repression and therefore the falsification of election results”. The US condemned the election as “not free and fair”.

Hundreds of people attended protests in Prague and Warsaw on Sunday.But President Lukashenko has sought Russian help because the unrest continues.

On Saturday, he said President Putin had promised to supply what he called comprehensive assistance within the event of external military threats to Belarus.

The two leaders had a second conversation on Sunday, during which the Kremlin said that they had discussed “the situation in Belarus, taking into consideration the pressure the republic was being anesthetize from outside”.

Mr Putin told Mr Lukashenko Russia was able to assist Belarus “in accordance with the collective military pact if necessary”.

The Belarusian leader also voiced concerns over Nato military exercises happening in neighbouring Poland and Lithuania, and embarked on a tirade against the Western military alliance.

Source: bbc news

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