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Belarus: Opposition calls for fresh strikes

August 24, 2020

President Alexander Lukashenko instructed the governor of the Grodno region to completely close the factories taking part. He also threatened to fire those participating in the strikes.

Police officers line up behind barbed wire during an opposition rally
Image: imago images/ITAR-TASS/V. Sharifulin

Following mass weekend protests in Belarus, the opposition called for strikes in state-owned companies against President Alexander Lukashenko at the start of the working week 

"We continue to demand the resignation of Lukashenko. Every minute that he is still in power, the economy is seeing great losses," the opposition Coordinating Council said in a statement. 

Lukashenko also instructed the governor of the Grodno region in the west of the country, where the opposition following is particularly strong, to completely close the factories that were set to strike.

The president also threatened those participating in the strikes with job losses. Lukashenko, who has come under pressure with allegations of electoral fraud, also announced a tougher course of action against the opposition.

Read more: Cops quit in Belarus: 'That's not why we entered the force'

Protests and turmoil

The strikes follow mass rallies on Sunday, which saw over 100,000 people gather in the streets of Minsk to again demand Lukashenko's resignation.

Lukashenko, dubbed by critics as the "last dictator in Europe," was seen on Sunday in his presidential palace with a firearm — a Kalashnikov submachine gun — in his hand. 

The Defense Ministry announced Sunday it will deploy the army to protect national monuments.

"The news [of the army deployment] has outraged people here. So far only the riot police have been used against the protesters. It is unclear whether these soldiers will be willing to use force against unarmed demonstrators," said DW's Nick Connolly in Minsk.

Read more: Lukashenko orders 'stringent' military response

President Alexander Lukashenko holding an automatic rifle and wearing body armour as he arrives, on August 23, 2020, at his residence in Minsk
Lukashenko holding an automatic rifle and wearing body armour as he arrives at his residence in MinskImage: AFP/BELTA

Germany demands answers

The German government on Monday demanded an explanation over reports that dead bodies had been found amid the ongoing protests. 

Germany’s government was shocked by the reported treatment of peaceful demonstrators in Belarus, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. 

Reports of dead bodies "must be fully clarified," he said.

Seibert also called for a dialogue between the Belarusian government and protesters. 

"The people continue to show a lot of courage," Seibert said. "They must have the opportunity to help shape the destiny of their country," he said. 

"A dialogue between government leaders and the Belarusian people is urgent in view of this situation," Seibert said, adding that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) could mediate.

Opposition calls for dialogue

Belarusian officials declared Lukashenko the winner in the presidential election on August 9. He claimed to have received 80% of the vote. The European Union did not recognize the results. 

Authorities have arrested nearly 7,000 people since the demonstrations erupted in the wake of the vote, with protesters accusing police of torturing and abusing detainees. 

"There is no respect for society or freedom in Belarus"

Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she hopes a dialogue between the Coordination Council and authorities would start soon.

"The aim of the Council is to run a dialogue with the current authorities. I hope that dialogue will take place soon. However, the first condition is the release of political prisoners," Tsikhanouskaya told the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza in an interview published on Monday.

Read more: Belarusians 'will never accept' Lukashenko's leadership, says opposition's Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya

Tsikhanouskaya emerged as the consensus opposition candidate after better-known figures, including her jailed activist husband, were barred from standing. She fled to neighboring Lithuania after the vote. 

lc, kp/msh (dpa, Reuters)

This is an updated version of a previous article and reflects that Germany's government spokesperson called for dialogue between the Belarusian government and protesters