Belarus strike actions start after Lukashenko ignores deadline to quit

Lukashenko had defied an ultimatum to surrender power by midnight on Sunday, challenging his opponents to make good on their threat to paralyse the country

Belarus strike actions start after Lukashenko ignores deadline to quit

People with old Belgian national flags march during an opposition rally to protest the official primary election results in Minsk, Belarus, on Monday, October 26, 2020. REUTERS

Moscow, October 26

Factory workers chanted slogans, students staged a sit-in and the police began detentions on Monday as Belarusians answered an opposition call for a national strike to force President Alexander Lukashenko to quit, local media footage showed.

Lukashenko had defied an ultimatum to surrender power by midnight on Sunday, challenging his opponents to make good on their threat to paralyse the country with mass strikes and shutdowns.

His refusal to quit after 26 years in power will test whether the opposition has the mass support it needs to bring enterprises across the country of 9.5 million people to a halt.

It was not immediately clear how widespread the latest round of protest action was. Strikes have hit some major state-run factories in recent weeks but they have not been sustained.

Eleven weeks after a disputed presidential election, the crisis in the former Soviet republic nevertheless entered a new phase with the expiry of the “People’s Ultimatum” set by exiled opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the August 9 election for the safety of her family, has urged Belarusians to block roads, shut down workplaces, stop using government shops and services and withdraw all money from their bank accounts.

Lukashenko has scoffed at the calls, asking “Who will feed the kids?” if workers at state-owned enterprises go on strike.

Tsikhanouskaya called on Sunday for the strike to go ahead called on Sunday after the police forces loyal to Lukashenko fired stun grenades and detained scores of people in a clampdown on protests by tens of thousands in Minsk and elsewhere.

“The regime once again showed Belarusians that force is the only thing it is capable of,” she said in a statement, adding: “That’s why on October 26, a national strike will begin.”

The standoff is being closely watched by neighbouring Russia and by Western governments.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has no desire to see another leader toppled by protests in a former Soviet state, as happened in Ukraine in 2014 and Kyrgyzstan earlier this month.

He, too, has faced street demonstrations at various times, including for the past three months in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk.

Since the crisis began, Moscow has backed Lukashenko with a $1.5 billion loan and increased security cooperation, including a series of joint military exercises and a visit last week by the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.

Security crackdown

Lukashenko (66) claimed victory in the August 9 election with an official vote share of more than 80 per cent but the opposition accused him of vote-rigging on a massive scale.

He has responded to mass street protests by arresting around 15,000 people, though most have since been released, and jailing opposition leaders or forcing them to leave the country.

A UN human rights investigator last month said thousands of people had been “savagely beaten” and there were more than 500 reports of torture, which the authorities denied.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed travel bans and asset freezes against a string of officials accused of election fraud and human rights abuses.

Tsikhanouskaya presented her ultimatum on October 13 after the government said the police would be authorised to use combat weapons against protesters if needed.

Three days later, a senior police official repeated the threat.

“We will of course humanely use weapons against them, including firearms, and we will remove the most dangerous ones from the streets,” said Nikolai Karpenkov, head of the police unit in charge of fighting organised crime. Reuters

Don't Miss

Arrival of pets has been the exact disruption we needed

Arrival of pets has been the exact disruption we needed

Modi to Ganguly, how different is BCCI?

Modi to Ganguly, how different is BCCI?

Sins of the father & the aftermath

Sins of the father & the aftermath

Summer of 69, in Himalayas

Summer of 69, in Himalayas

Congress in need of overhaul

Congress in need of overhaul

Top Stories

Night curfew to be imposed in Punjab as Capt announces fresh curbs from December 1

Night curfew to be imposed in Punjab as Capt announces fresh curbs from December 1

Fine for not wearing masks to be doubled from Rs 500 to Rs 1...

Argentina's Maradona, one of soccer's greatest, dies aged 60

Argentina's Maradona, one of soccer's greatest, dies aged 60

Legend suffered a heart attack at his home in the outskirts ...

Home Ministry issues new COVID guidelines for December

Home Ministry issues new COVID guidelines for December

States/UTs mandated to strictly adhere to containment measur...

'Delhi Chalo' protest: Haryana Police use water cannon on farmers in Karnal

'Delhi Chalo' protest: Haryana Police use water cannon on farmers in Karnal

Haryana deploys police in large numbers, imposes Section 144...

Cities

View All