Belarusian Opposition Calls National Strike For October 26 Amid More Protests

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https://www.rferl.org

Riot police fired stun grenades at protesters as tens of thousands of people headed toward Independence Palace in Minsk on October 25.

MINSK — Belarusian opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has said a national strike will begin on October 26 after Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets to protests against him earlier in the day.

Tsikhanouskaya had previously set a “People’s Ultimatum” for Lukashenka to resign by the evening of October 25, warning she would call a national strike if he did not.

More than 100,000 people protested in Minsk on October 25 despite a massive police and military presence.

The rallies for the 11th Sunday in a row came despite a warning by the Interior Ministry that people should not attend demonstrations for which no permit had been issued.

Stun grenades were used against protesters as tens of thousands of people headed toward Independence Palace in Minsk, carrying the red-and-white flags of the Belarusian opposition movement.

Protesters scattered as loud bangs and flashes lit up the city’s streets after nightfall, videos showed. At least one person was wounded as the result of the use of stun grenades.

Rubber bullets were also used to disperse the column, and one person was wounded by a shot in the stomach.

More than 120 people were detained, the Vyasna human rights group reported.

Police confirmed that riot-control weapons had been used and detentions had taken place, the TASS and RIA Novosti news agencies reported.

“The regime once again showed Belarusians that force is the only thing it is capable of,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement. “That’s why tomorrow, October 26, a national strike will begin.”

Tsikhanouskaya earlier urged people to take part in a general strike on October 26 or simply to stay at home.

Ahead of the protests, mobile Internet was disrupted and 12 subway stations were closed in the capital due to “security reasons,” until early afternoon, when all of them reopened.

“More than 100 thousand people gathered today in Minsk,” the Telegram channel Nexta reported.

Such measures have been reported during past protests in what appeared to be an attempt to disrupt the free flow of information.

Eyewitnesses also reported a heavy presence of security forces in the city. Smaller anti-government demonstrations were also held in several other cities.

Unlike previous Sunday protests, the largest number detentions were not in the Belarusian capital, but in the regions, Vyasna said.

Rights campaigners said arrests were made in several cities, including Minsk, Hrodna, Homel, Brest, Lida, and Mahilyou. In Lida, security forces used tear gas against protesters.

Belarus has been rocked by protests since Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared the winner of the August 9 presidential election amid allegations of widespread vote rigging.

On October 24, several hundred women marched across the capital, Minsk, in heavy rain to demand the resignation of Lukashenka.

Many women attending the march said they would support the strike called by Tsikhanouskaya.

The opposition says the results of the August vote were fraudulent, and that Tsikhanouskaya was in fact the legitimate winner. She left Belarus for Lithuania shortly after the election amid threats to her and her family.

The democracy movement is also calling for an end to police violence, the release of all political prisoners, and a new election.

Lukashenka sought to immediately squash the protest movement as he had in the past with harassment, arrests, and police brutality.

More than 12,000 Belarusians have been detained and hundreds tortured during protests over the ensuing weeks.

The EU and United States have refused to recognize Lukashenka, who held an abrupt inauguration ceremony last month, as the legitimate ruler of Belarus.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, AFP, and AP

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