Opposition raises challenge against Lukashenko with strike in Belarus

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The “ultimatum” to Aleksandr Lukashenko has expired to no avail. The opposition had given him until this Sunday to leave power without obtaining a minimum response from the Belarusian leader. In response, its critics have called on the Belarusian public to a general strike to demand the departure of the man who has ruled the country with an iron fist for 26 years. This Monday, despite the threats from the authorities and the arrests, groups of workers have supported the strike and thousands of students and pensioners – who have taken the witness of the mobilization with force – have taken to the squares. One more challenge to the Belarusian president a day after the authorities harshly suppressed another mass demonstration in the capital of the former Soviet republic.

With the new initiative in the form of a work stoppage, the opposition seeks to break the dynamics of the protests with which Lukashenko is keeping a strong pulse, but which seem stalled since August. However, fear of further reprisals, the economic crisis and the arrests of the organizers have already weighed down previous strikes.

“The main thing is to show that no one will work for the regime,” opposition leader Svetlana Tinajóvskaya from exile stressed in a statement. “The deadline to meet the requirements of the people’s ultimatum has expired,” said Tijanóvskaya, who called on public and private workers, religious communities and sports personalities to join the strike. The objective is not only to paralyze production but also consumption, he explained.

The opposition claims that a significant number of employees of the main state factories, including the symbolic Minsk tractor plant or Grodno’s Azot fertilizer industry, have gone on strike. The authorities assure, however, that the work in all the public companies, where this morning there were some preventive arrests, continues smoothly. A group of workers from technology companies, one of the flags of the country’s development, have been arrested this Monday when they participated in the mobilizations in a sector in which the mobilization has been the majority.

“We believe, we can, we will win!” Chanted thousands of students in Minsk. “We will not rest until Lukashenko leaves, we have to fight for our future,” says Natasha Terekulova, a language student from Minsk, who has gone on strike and participated in the demonstration. The student march has joined a mobilization of pensioners against the Belarusian leader who has blocked the main street of the capital.

The protests against Lukashenko have not stopped since last August 9, when thousands of people clamored in the streets against electoral fraud in the presidential elections in which Lukashenko claimed victory with 80% of the votes. The opposition does not recognize the results of the elections, which accumulate complaints of manipulation; nor the European Union, which has added to its list of sanctions against Belarus.

The Belarusian leader, who claims that the protests are being driven from the West as a plot to evict him, faces the most serious political crisis in his 26 years in power. However, after asking for help from Russia, which has ended up providing him financial support and guaranteeing police aid if the protests pose a threat, Lukashenko is resisting the pulse. He has forced into exile or arrested the main faces of the opposition and sharpened the repression of the demonstrations, threatening citizens with even using live ammunition.

At yesterday’s demonstration in Minsk, on the eleventh Sunday in a row, riot police used stun grenades and rubber bullets. The Belarusian civil rights organization Viasna has reported more than 200 detainees and several injuries.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko assures that he has launched a process to reform the Constitution, which still seems vague, and has come to meet with a group of prominent imprisoned opponents, in a gesture that observers see as another formula to buy time.

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