Belarus strikes must continue and intensify, opposition leader says


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Strikers at the MZKT heavy vehicle plant in Minsk

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has urged her supporters to step up their strikes despite “intimidation” from the authorities as prosecutors question her allies.

In a new video address from exile in neighboring Lithuania, she said: “I ask you to continue and extend the strikes… do not be fooled by the intimidation. ”

She says the August 9 elections were “stolen” by President Alexander Lukashenko and must be restarted fairly.

Many workers went on strike.

However, President Lukashenko is showing no signs of backing down, and activists report pressure on SOE staff not to join strikes.

Last weekend, around 200,000 anti-Lukashenko demonstrators invaded central Minsk, furious at a brutal police crackdown on the opposition.

In her last message, Ms Tikhanovskaya said: “It is time to unite… you have intimidated the dictatorship.

“He trembles with fear of you, your strength and your courage. This is why today you are feeling enormous pressure. ”

Ms Tikhanovskaya’s allies in the new Opposition Coordination Council have been summoned to the Belarusian Investigative Committee (SK), as they are now accused of an illegal takeover.

The BBC’s Minsk’s Will Vernon reports that a council lawyer, Maxim Znak, arrived for questioning on Friday, and Sergei Dylevsky, organizer of strikes at the Minsk tractor plant, is also to be questioned.

The council, which also includes prominent Belarusian cultural figures, was launched to organize a peaceful transition and pave the way for a resumption of elections.

But on Thursday, the chief prosecutor launched a criminal case against the council, calling it unconstitutional. President Lukashenko called some of the demonstrators “Nazis”.

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Media legendOpposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and President Lukashenko give very different messages

Maxim Znak told the BBC he feared he would be arrested on Friday.

Traditionally loyal factory workers in state-owned enterprises joined the strike, in a show of unprecedented defiance of Mr Lukashenko.

But reports say the number of strikers has declined due to official pressure on them. For example, those leaving public television were told that they would not find their jobs.

Police intervened during a demonstration outside the Minsk tractor factory, arresting protesters.

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Security forces were stationed outside factories and factories on Wednesday

Police also blocked the entrance to the Minsk National Academy Theater after staff resigned en masse following the forced eviction of director and former Minister of Culture Pavel Latushko, who publicly called for news elections.

Ms Tikhanovskaya called on EU leaders to help establish a dialogue with the authorities. The EU has already announced sanctions against Lukashenko. The nation of 9.5 million people has a longstanding icy relationship with the EU.

The Belarusian president has been in power for 26 years and remains an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, although he has resisted Russian pressure for deeper integration.

On Thursday, President Putin discussed the Belarusian crisis with European Council President Charles Michel by telephone. The Kremlin said that Mr. Putin “stressed that any pressure on the leadership of the Belarusian sovereign state and any outside interference in the internal processes taking place there would be counterproductive”.

Mr Lukashenko’s victory was rejected by the major international powers.

Fears of arrest as initial optimism wanes

Par Jonah Fisher, BBC News, Minsk

Much of the Belarusian opposition is already in prison or, in the case of presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, in exile outside the country.

The opening of this criminal case could therefore pave the way for the arrest of many of those who remained. Appointed by Ms. Tikhanovskaya, the members of the Coordination Council are a mix of artists, civil society figures, journalists and business people.

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Protests continued on Thursday, but President Lukashenko is keen to prevent another large rally on Sunday

Thoughts here in Minsk have already started to turn to the weekend. Last Sunday, a huge demonstration of several hundred thousand people galvanized the opposition. Another Sunday rally is scheduled and it appears President Lukashenko is determined to avoid a repeat.

After a period in which Omon’s riot police largely retreated from sight, they have now been ordered to return to the streets.

The brutality of the first days after the election has not returned, but people are understandably cautious. The heady optimism of just a few days ago quickly dissipated.


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