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Hundreds Protest In Belarus City Against Tax On Jobless

  • RFE/RL's Belarus Service

PINSK, Belarus -- Several hundred people have staged a protest in the southwestern Belarusian city of Pinsk, calling for the scrapping of a law imposing a tax on jobless people.

The March 11 protest was the latest in series of demonstrations against the law, despite authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announcing that he was suspending its application for one year in order to "correct" it and carry it out next year.

Lukashenka said the law, which is reminiscent of Soviet-era legislation, was needed to fight what he has called "social parasitism." The legislation has sparked protests across the nation of 10 million. It imposes a special tax on Belarusians who work less than half of a calendar year and do not register at the country's labor bureaus.

The law, however, exempts registered job-seekers, homemakers, subsistence farmers, and Belarusians working in Russia.

The Pinsk protest, dubbed "The March of the Non-Parasites," brought together people of various ages, including pensioners, who gathered in the main square of Pinsk.

Some participants were carrying both the current red-green flag of Belarus and the historical white-red-white banner used by the short-lived Belarusian Republic in 1918, before Belarus became a Soviet Republic.

'Time To Take Up Pitchforks'

Some demonstrators chanted slogans calling for the replacement of the current government and for fair elections.

"It's time to take up our pitchforks," one old man told RFE/RL.

"This is a terrible thing that's happening in Belarus. We have reached the limit. Even under [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev, we lived a hundred times better," he said.

RFE/RL correspondents reported that three men in civilian clothes attempted to detain popular video-blogger Maksim Povich, but gave up and ran away when demonstrators shouted at them to leave Povich alone.

Similar rallies are scheduled for March 12 in three more cities -- Babruysk, Vorsha, and Rahachou. Activists in the capital, Minsk, told RFE/RL that city authorities had given them permission to stage a demonstration as well.

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Although Lukashenka announced a suspension of the tax, he also instructed his interior minister to ensure that "perfect order" is established in the country, the BelaPAN news agency reported.

Lukashenka, who the United States has dubbed "Europe's last dictator," has ruled Belarus for more than two decades, quashing political opposition, civil society groups, independent media, and other forms of dissent.

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