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Belarus Opposition Demands Lukashenka Step Down Or Face National Strike


Opposition supporters, mostly pensioners, attend a rally to reject the presidential election results in Minsk on October 12. The poster reads "Grandmas with the people."

Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has demanded Alyaksandr Lukashenka step down in 12 days or face a nationwide strike.

"If our demands aren't fulfilled by October 25, the entire country will peacefully take to the streets," Tsikhanouskaya said on October 13 in a statement that also demanded the release of all political prisoners and an end to the crackdown on protesters calling on Lukashenka to step down after 26 years in power.

"On October 26, a national strike of all enterprises will begin, all roads will be blocked, sales in state-owned stores will collapse. You have 13 days to fulfill three conditions. We have 13 days to prepare, and in the meantime Belarusians will continue their peaceful and persistent protest," Tsikhanouskaya said in the statement issued on Telegram.

Belarus has been rocked by protests since an August 9 presidential election handed Lukashenka a sixth term amid allegations of widespread fraud.

Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say won the vote, left Belarus for Lithuania shortly after the election amid threats to her and her family.

The United States and EU have refused to recognize the 66-year-old Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus. The EU on October 12 agreed to add Lukashenka to its sanctions list.

In a telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on October 13, the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, reiterated the EU's support for Belarusians to pick their leader "through new, free and fair elections, without external interference."

Borrel also urged Russia to back a proposal by the "current and upcoming OSCE chairmanships-in-office to facilitate a much-needed, inclusive national dialogue in Belarus."

Tsikhanouskaya's ultimatum comes after more than 500 people were detained by police in Minsk and elsewhere in Belarus on October 11 in what observers described as one of the harshest crackdowns in recent weeks.

On October 12, riot police also used harsh measures to stop a march in Minsk of pensioners, beating and arresting dozens. The same day, an Interior Ministry official warned that police would use "lethal weapons if need be" against protesters.

Protesting Pensioners In Minsk Fend Off Pepper Spray With Umbrellas
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A Tsikhanouskaya aide told Reuters the demand had been announced in response to the threat to use lethal weapons and increased police violence on the streets. Tsikhanouskaya expected the West to support her demands, the aide said.

Lukashenka had initially bristled at the suggestion of a dialogue with the opposition. But on October 10, he visited a KGB prison to talk to jailed activists, including Viktar Babaryka, a politician who was detained in July and barred from running in the election.

The BelTA state news agency said Lukashenka had spoken about proposed changes to the constitution, reforms put forward as a way to end the political crisis but which his critics see as a stalling tactic.

The following day, the authorities ramped up their crackdown on protesters, dispersing crowds with water cannons and stun grenades, injuring dozens and detaining hundreds.

Belarusian Protesters Brave Water Cannons
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In her Telegram statement, Tsikhanouskaya condemned that violence.

"We woke up two months ago on a regular day and went to polling stations. We voted for the change. Later we took to the streets to get our votes back but got bullets, sticks, prison cages, and cynical lies in return," she said.

Tsikhanouskaya's spokeswoman, Anna Krasulina, told the AP news agency that the statement with the demands "has been relayed to all official structures of Belarus."

She said that members of the opposition's Coordination Council who were forced to leave the country held a meeting in Vilnius on October 12.

"A decision has been made to act more decisively," Krasulina said.

With reporting by AP, Interfax, Reuters, and AFP
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