The Belarusian opposition announced a nationwide strike on Monday to force President Alexander Lukashenko to resign. In the coming days it must become clear how far the population wants to go in the protests against the regime.
Protest abated in recent weeks
The ultimatum that the Belarusian opposition had given to Lukashenko two weeks ago expired on Sunday. If he didn’t step down, a nationwide strike would follow.
Images from local media show empty factories and students leaving the university on Monday morning. It is a quiet street, but large shops and pharmacies are still open. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has called on citizens to block roads, close workplaces, refrain from using government stores and services, and take all money from the bank.
On Sunday, more than a hundred thousand civilians took to the streets in the capital Minsk, where they were shot at with tear gas. More than 500 people were arrested. The high turnout was striking as protests have dwindled in recent weeks, presumably due to exhaustion and an increasingly tougher stance on the part of the regime.
“The regime has once again shown that violence is the only thing it can do,” Tikhanovskaya said in a statement on the use of tear gas on Sunday. “That’s why the nationwide strike will start.”
With the strike, support for the opposition among the 9.5 million Belarusians is being tested more than ever. Demonstrators have already entered the eleventh week of protests against the president.
Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus for 26 years. In August, he won the election with an unlikely 80 percent of the vote. Tikhanovskaya, the most popular opposition candidate, received only 10 percent of the vote despite massive statements of support in the streets of the country.
Lukashenko challenges the opposition to put words into action. “Who’s going to feed the kids?” The president said disdainfully of the strike. The opposition also announced strikes in previous weeks, but they often did not last long.
In recent weeks, local protest leaders have been increasingly prosecuted by the regime in an attempt to intimidate them. There have also been threats of using firearms against the protesters, whom the regime describes as “criminals” backed by foreign money.