Nearly 3 months after vote, Belarus protests still go strong
Kyiv: Nearly three months after Belarus' authoritarian president's re-election to a sixth term in a vote widely seen as rigged, demonstrators keep swarming the streets of Belarusian cities to demand his resignation in the most massive and sustained wave of protests the ex-Soviet nation has ever seen.
While President Alexander Lukashenko has relied on massive arrests and intimidation tactics to hold on to power, the continuing rallies have cast an unprecedented challenge to his 26-year rule. Authorities have responded to protests triggered by Aug 9 election that gave Lukashenko a landslide victory over Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya by unleashing a violent post-election crackdown.
Police dispersed peaceful demonstrators with stun grenades and rubber bullets, detained thousands and beat hundreds, which caused protests to swell and prompted the U.S. and the European Union to introduce sanctions against Belarusian officials.
Tsikhanouskaya, who went to Lithuania after the vote under pressure from authorities, called for a nationwide strike this week that so far has failed to halt production at state-run industrial plants forming the backbone of the Belarusian economy. But observers predict that economic troubles amid a surge in coronavirus infections will fuel discontent and steadily erode Lukashenko's grip on power.
By putting forward an ultimatum to Lukashenko to resign by Oct. 25 or face the strike, Tsikhanouskaya has managed to mobilize and re-invigorate her supporters after nearly three months of protests.
About 200,000 demonstrators flooded the Belarusian capital last Sunday, one of the biggest rallies since the protests began. Another massive protest is planned for this Sunday. Authorities, meanwhile, have focused on derailing the opposition efforts to stage strikes at major state factories.