Reuters – Factory workers chanted slogans, students took to the streets and police made detentions on Monday as Belarusians answered an opposition call for a national strike to force President Alexander Lukashenko to quit, local media footage showed.
Lukashenko defied an ultimatum to surrender power by midnight, challenging his opponents to make good on a threat to paralyse the country with strikes, nearly three months after his disputed election victory unleashed mass protests.
If sustained, the strikes could open a new phase in the crisis, testing whether the opposition has the mass support it needs to bring enterprises across the country of 9.5 million people to a halt. Previously, the opposition has mounted some strikes at state-run factories, but they were not sustained.
Local media reported groups of strikers at many major state-controlled enterprises. However, the prime minister’s spokeswoman said all the country’s major industrial companies were working normally.
Security officers in plain clothes stood next to vans outside the Minsk Tractor Works and Minsk Automobile Plant. One person was detained, a witness said.
Hundreds of students marched out of several universities in Minsk clapping and chanting as passing cars tooted their horns in support.
On one street, black-clad officers in masks poured out of vans, detaining people and dragging them away, footage from news website Tut.by showed. One group of students sprinted away after being dispersed by police, footage from the Nasha Niva outlet showed.
Exiled opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has urged Belarusians to block roads, shut down workplaces, stop using government shops and services and withdraw all money from their bank accounts.
Lukashenko has scoffed, asking “Who will feed the kids?”
Tsikhanouskaya called on Sunday for the strike to go ahead after police fired stun grenades and detained scores of people at protests by tens of thousands in Minsk and elsewhere, the 11th straight weekend of huge demonstrations.
“The regime once again showed Belarusians that force is the only thing it is capable of,” she said in a statement. “That’s why tomorrow, Oct. 26, a national strike will begin.”
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