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Belarusian Protests Over New Job Tax Spread Beyond Minsk


Protests over a new tax aimed at reducing social welfare spread beyond the Belarusian capital, as thousands took to the streets in Homel and other towns.

Along with similar protests two days earlier in Minsk, the February 19 demonstrations were some of the largest in the country in years.

In Homel, near the border with Russia, at least 1,000 people marched and chanted slogans against the measure, known as the "Law Against Social Parasites."

The march went forward without incident, and without advance approval from authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

About 60,000 people have signed a petition opposing the law, which requires people who were employed fewer than 183 days in a calendar year to pay a tax of about $200.

Officials say only about 10 percent of the 430,000 Belarusians affected by the law have paid the tax so far.

The measure is aimed at combating what President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has called "social parasitism."

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

In the capital Minsk, about 2,000 people rallied against the measure on February 17, many of them carrying placards attacking Lukashenka.

Lukashenka has ruled Belarus more than two decades, quashing political opposition, civil society groups, independent media, and other forms of dissent.

But the country has been mired in recession since 2015 due to low world oil prices and the spillover of the economic downturn in neighboring Russia.

Many Belarusians rely on remittances from working in Russia.

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