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Belarus protests tax on unemployed 'parasites'

Popularly known as the "tax on social parasites," President Alexander Lukashenko sought to tax the underemployed. Even though he backed down on the tax protests have continued, with some calling for his resignation.

Dozens of activists and journalists have been detained in Belarus amid protests in four cities over a new tax that targets people who do not have enough work. Opposition leader Pavel Severinets was among those arrested in Orsha.

Sunday's protests in Orsha, Babruysk, Brest and Rahachow were the latest in a rare wave of demonstrations inside the authoritarian country. Popularly known as the "tax on social parasites" it slaps a levy of $250 (233 euros) on those who work less than 183 days per year.

Those officially registered as unemployed are exempt but must do community service for $10 per month.

President Alexander Lukashenko suspended implementation of the new law last week, apparently feeling the heat of the public protests. But his concession has not satisfied disgruntled Belarusians. The protests have continued, and some have called on Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994, to resign.

About 1,000 people took to the streets in Orsha, making it the largest protest of the day. Some 600 turned out in Babruysk, and hundreds more turned out in Brest and Rahachow respectively.

Weißrussland Proteste gegen Preiserhöhungen (Reuters/V. Fedosenko)

People shout slogans during a protest against increased taxes. The placard reads: Together we are a force!

Many of the demonstrators were middle-aged and elderly people who complained there was no work for them.

A protest last month in the capital Minsk drew around 2,000 people, making it the largest demonstration in the country in six years. The protestors vowed to return to the streets if the government did not take "real steps to fulfill the people's will" by March 17.

Belarus's chronically sputtering economy has been in reverse for more than a year. The economy is gripped by recession, and the average monthly salary has fallen from an all-time high of $630 in mid-2014 to $380.

In the Soviet era, "freeloading" or living on unearned income and not seeking employment was a crime, reflecting Communist ideology that glorified labor.

Russian lawmakers have also raised the possibility of introducing a similar measure.

bik/jlw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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