Thousands protest as Belarus leader faces resignation demands

Belarusian law enforcement officers and service members stand guard during an opposition rally on Oct 25 2020

Ms Tsikhanouskaya on Sunday called for the strike to go ahead after police forces loyal to Mr Lukashenko fired stun grenades and detained scores of people in a clampdown on protests by tens of thousands in Minsk and elsewhere.

Ex-Belarusian presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya announced on Sunday that a nationwide strike will commence on October 26 as her ultimatum to President Alexander Lukashenko expires.

In Minsk, police used stun grenades to disperse the crowds.

Mr Lukashenko has responded to the mass street protests by arresting around 15,000 people, though most have since been released, and jailing opposition leaders or forcing them to leave the country.

Local media estimated that about 100,000 people had joined the demonstration in the capital.

Over 200,000 people took part in the largest demonstration in Minsk since late August, pressing for the resignation of the country's authoritarian president.

Mass protests have rocked Belarus for more than two months, ever since the official results of the August 9 election gave Mr Lukashenko a landslide victory with 80% of the vote.

The election was followed by a crackdown on the opposition, with all main challengers to Lukashenko either being arrested or leaving the country.

Human rights group Vesna-96 said 216 people had been detained so far on Sunday.

Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russian Federation has been rocked by street protests and strikes since authorities announced that Mr Lukashenko had won the August 9 vote by a landslide.

Protests against Lukashenko have persisted, despite a police threat to open fire on demonstrators.

Tikhanovskaya had given Lukashenko until Sunday to quit power, halt violence against protesters and release political prisoners, warning he would otherwise face a general strike from Monday. "That's why tomorrow, October 26, a national strike will begin".

"The regime has once again showed the Belarusians that violence is the only thing it is capable of, " said civil rights activist and exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in a statement from neighboring Lithuania.

"The sharp increase of the number of protesters was big news for Lukashenko, who has ramped up repressions in recent months, threatened and intimidated in an attempt to quell the wave of the protests", Ales Bialiatski, director of the Viasna human rights center, said.



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