Thousands of people participated in protest marches and strikes in Belarus after the passing of a deadline imposed by the opposition for the country’s leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, to resign.
Last week, opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya threatened to call a national strike for Monday unless Lukashenko announced his resignation, released political prisoners and stopped the crackdown on protesters.
Hours after the deadline expired, students and pensioners led new protests through the capital Minsk, demonstrating their support for a strike. Cars honked in support and several roads were blocked. Dozens of shops, cafes and restaurants were closed, as well as many other small businesses.
“Today, the people’s strike begins – the next step for Belarusians towards freedom, an end to violence and new elections,” Tikhanovskaya said on Monday.
However, most state enterprises, including big supermarkets and public transport, did not take part in the strike.
Mass protests have rocked Belarus for over two months, after official results from the August 9th election gave Lukashenko a landslide victory with 80% of the vote. The opposition say the vote was rigged.
The interior ministry said police arrested 523 people during mass anti-government demonstrations on Sunday, 352 of whom are still in custody. According to news agencies, at least 10 stun grenades went off. There were also reports that riot police had fired rubber bullets.
On Monday, at least 155 people were arrested for supporting the strike action in the cities of Minsk, Borisov, Brest, Grodno, Mogilev and Novopolotsk, according to human rights group Vesna