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Thousands protest in Belarus against 'anti-sponging law'

A spate of protests against a new tax has spread beyond the Belarusian capital, Minsk. The unpopular labor law obliges citizens to pay the equivalent of $250 if they work less than half the year.

Similar protests were held in Minsk on Friday, February 17

Similar protests took place in Minsk on Friday, February 17

Local media in Belarus reported on Sunday that around 2,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets of Gomel, the country's second city, while hundreds more marched in other cities. The protests were unauthorized but appeared to be tolerated by the authorities with no reports of arrests.

The new tax, widely known as the "Law against social parasites" or the "anti-sponging law" is enshrined in a decree on preventing social dependency.

Almost half a million liable

Under the law, adults who declare less than 183 days of work per year and do not register with state labor exchanges have to pay the equivalent to $250 in compensation for lost taxes - more than half an average monthly salary.

Tax authorities say around 470,000 people are liable for the tax, but fewer than 10 percent have paid, generating just $6 million in extra revenue for the government.

Economic turmoil

While focusing on the new law, demonstrators also expressed their general dissatisfaction with the authoritarian government of President Alexander Lukashenko who has been in office since 1994.

Similar protests were held in the capital, Minsk, on Friday. The demonstration of around 2,000 people marked the biggest opposition action in Belarus since 2011.

Belarus has been in recession since 2015 due to a slump in oil prices and contagion from an economic downturn in neighboring Russia, where many Belarusians work in order to send money home.

ksb/sms (AP, Reuters)

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