Watch: Students protest in Belarus to demand Lukashenko resignation
Hundreds of factory workers and students across Belarus staged sit-ins and rallied outside their workplaces and universities on Monday, in a bid to pressure president Alexander Lukashenko to step down.
Mr Lukashenko has come under growing pressure from protesters after he won the rigged August presidential elections, which plunged the former Soviet republic into a protracted political crisis.
The industrial action began on Monday morning after Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an exiled opposition leader, issued an ultimatum for Mr Lukashenko to stop police violence, release all political prisoners and resign.
“The national strike is the Belarusians’ next step toward freedom, end to violence and new elections,” she said on Monday.
“The main goal for Oct 26 is to show that no one is going to work for this regime.”
Mr Lukashenko’s landslide win at the polls in the summer was met with a general disbelief and triggered massive opposition protests. Rallies were brutally dispersed by riot police, who used stun grenades and fired rubber bullets at unarmed demonstrators. Thousands were detained and hundreds tortured in custody.
Belarus has been gripped by anti-Lukashenko demonstrations ever since, and Mrs Tsikhanouskaya, who ran for president after her husband was disqualified and later jailed, upped the ante earlier this month, calling on Belarusians to start a general strike.
Workers at several major factories including the important Minsk Tractor Works in the Belarusian capital downed their tools on Monday morning and rallied outside factory gates in a sign of defiance.
It was not immediately clear, however, if the strikes have affected production. The management at several plants including those where trade unions reported a partial shutdown insisted that their operations were normal.
About 100 workers were detained early in the morning outside the Hrodna Azot fertiliser plant, the Tut.by news website reported.
Sergey Dylevsky, a union activist who fled to Poland following 25 days in jail, in a video message on Monday lauded workers for mounting the strike and urged those who still hesitate to side with the opposition.
“Have a good think, guys, kill a slave inside yourself. We have no other chance.”
Hundreds of university students came out of their campuses in Minsk on Monday morning to form solidarity chains and sing protest songs.
Several groups of students marched across Minsk, chanting “Freedom”.
Many private businesses also shut down their operations on Monday in solidarity with the protesters, most of them posting notices of closure due to “technical reasons.”
Watch: Beatings and intimidation but Belarus demonstrators are still full of street spirit