Belarus Opposition Starts Strike as Lukashenko Ignores Ultimatum

The Belarusian opposition urged workers nationwide to go on strike after President Alexander Lukashenko ignored an ultimatum to resign by Sunday and police cracked down on a mass protest.

Employees at major state factories, including the Minsk Tractor Plant and fertilizer maker Grodno Azot, have walked out, as have students across the country, Franak Viacorka, an adviser to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said on Twitter Monday. Some detentions have been reported, he said.

Work is continuing as usual at the country’s enterprises in the real sector, according to Alexandra Isaeva, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s office. Belneftekhim, the state oil and chemicals complex, denied an industrial action at Grodno Azot, according to the news website. Previous efforts to shut down the economy with strikes have fizzled as police targeted the organizers.

The move is an attempt to break a stalemate between the authorities and the protesters since Lukashenko claimed to win a landslide on Aug. 9 in a vote the opposition says was rigged. Neither the U.S. nor the European Union have accepted the outcome of the election.

“The deadline for meeting the requirements of the People’s Ultimatum has expired,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement Monday, calling on state and private sector employees, religious communities, cultural and sports figures to stop work for a day.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Minsk and other cities in a weekly demonstration since the disputed election. Police used stun grenades and detentions to break up the rallies.

The political crisis is the worst of Lukashenko’s 26 years in power and has forced him closer to his ally Russia, which has provided financial support during the protests. Last week, he met with Russia’s foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin, who later blamed the demonstrations on outside influence.

The opposition has rallied around Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the election. A former English teacher who joined the race after her husband was jailed and barred from running, Tsikhanouskaya has since fled to Lithuania and was awarded the European Union’s top human rights prize on Thursday.

The EU has said the elections were not free or fair and is ready to add Lukashenko to a blacklist of Belarusians who were sanctioned earlier this month.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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