The top opposition challenger in the Belarusian presidential election has threatened to call a country-wide strike unless the country’s authoritarian president announces his resignation, releases political prisoners and stops his government’s violent crackdown on protesters.
“If our demands aren’t fulfilled by October 25, the entire country will peacefully take to the streets,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement issued from Vilnius, Lithuania, where she’s in exile after leaving Belarus under pressure from authorities after the country’s disputed August 9 presidential election.
“On October 26, a national strike of all enterprises will begin, all roads will be blocked, sales in state-owned stores will collapse. You have 13 days to fulfil three conditions. We have 13 days to prepare, and in the meantime Belarusians will continue their peaceful and persistent protest,” the statement said.
Belarus has been rocked by mass protests since August 9 when results of a presidential election officially handed President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office.
Tsikhanouskaya, who officials claim got only 10 per cent of the vote, and her supporters refused to recognise the results as valid, saying they were riddled with fraud.
The European Union and the United States have also refused to recognise the official results of the vote.
The rallies, some of which drew up to 200,000 people demanding the president’s resignation, posed the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenko, who has run the country for 26 years, relentlessly repressing the opposition and independent media.
Prominent members of the opposition’s coordination council, which was formed to push for a transition of power, have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
Lukashenko initially bristled at the suggestion of a dialogue with the opposition.
But on Saturday, he visited a prison to talk to jailed activists in a move commentators interpreted as an attempt to imitate a dialogue to reduce tensions.
The following day authorities ramped up their crackdown on protesters, dispersing crowds with water cannons and stun grenades, hurting dozens and detaining hundreds.