Minggu, 25 Oktober 2020

Belarus opposition prepares mass strikes after Alexander Lukashenko ignores deadline to quit - ABC News

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has defied an ultimatum to surrender power by midnight on Sunday (local time), challenging his opponents to make good on their threat to paralyse the country with a national strike.

Eleven weeks after a disputed presidential election, the crisis in the former Soviet republic entered a new phase with the expiry of the 'People's Ultimatum] set by opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Mr Lukashenko's refusal to quit after 26 years in power will test whether the opposition has the mass support it needs to bring enterprises across the country of 9.5 million people to a halt.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the August 9 election for the safety of her family, has urged Belarusians from Monday to block roads, shut down workplaces, stop using Government shops and services and withdraw all money from their bank accounts.

Mr Lukashenko has scoffed at the calls, asking "who will feed the kids?" if workers at state-owned enterprises go on strike.

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.

"That's why tomorrow, October 26, a national strike will begin."

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Belarusian forces use water cannons to disperse protestors in the capital Minsk earlier this month.

The standoff is being closely watched by neighbouring Russia and Western governments.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has no desire to see another leader toppled by protests in a former Soviet state, as happened in Ukraine in 2014 and in Kyrgyzstan earlier this month.

He too has faced street demonstrations at various times, including for the past three months in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk.

Since the crisis began, Moscow has backed Lukashenko with a $1.5 billion loan and increased security cooperation, including a series of joint military exercises and a visit last week by the head of Russia's foreign intelligence agency.

Claims election was rigged

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

The result has widely been condemned as rigged and people have since taken to the streets frequently to demand that Mr Lukashenko step down and allow for a new election to be held.

The US, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions against a string of senior officials in Belarus accused of fraud and human rights abuses in the wake of the presidential election.

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.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania after the August election.(AP)

A UN human rights investigator said last month that thousands of people had been "savagely beaten" and there were more than 500 reports of torture, which the authorities deny.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya presented her ultimatum on October 13 after the Government said police would be authorised to use combat weapons against protesters if needed.

Three days later, Nikolai Karpenkov, head of the police unit in charge of fighting organised crime, repeated the threat.

"We will of course humanely use weapons against them, including firearms, and we will remove the most dangerous ones from the streets," he said.


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2020-10-26 01:27:00Z

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