Thousands of protesters have gathered in Minsk on Monday, October 26, amid a national strike called for by opposition figure Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya following an ultimatum for President Alexander Lukashenko to step down. Demonstrators were urged to block roads, shut down workplaces, stop using government services, and withdraw all money from their bank accounts in efforts to paralyze the country and government. Media sources state that groups of strikers were reported outside of many state-controlled enterprises; however, government officials have commented that the major industrial companies remain operating as normal. Associated disruptions have been reported in central Minsk and many shops, restaurants, and cafes have closed in the capital. Riot police have reportedly used force to detain 150 demonstrators on Monday across the country. There have been no immediate reports of injuries.
Further unrest is expected in the capital and across Belarus in the coming days as the situation has shown little sign of being resolved. A heightened security presence, as well as localized disruptions, are to be anticipated in the vicinity of any demonstrations.
Election officials announced that Lukashenko had won 80 percent of the vote in the presidential election held on August 9, with the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya gaining 9.9 percent. Lukashenko faced few challenges to his sixth term as president, with his main rivals Valery Tsepkalo and Viktor Babariko being barred from standing. However, the run-up to the election saw increased political tensions and opposition protest activity. Opposition groups have denounced the election results as fraudulent.
Protests have taken place throughout Belarus since the election result was announced, with security forces blocking access to a number of cities as clashes with protesters were reported. Security forces have deployed tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, batons, and concussion grenades in attempts to disperse crowds. The promise of military support from Russian President Vladimir Putin has seemingly emboldened Lukashenko and has seen a new wave of arrests during opposition demonstrations in Minsk and other urban centers.
Those in Belarus, particularly in Minsk, are advised to monitor the situation, avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, adhere to instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments, and refrain from discussing politically sensitive topics in public or on social media.
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