Fifth day of protests in Belarus after disputed presidential elections
By Peter Spinella
Moscow - Groups of Belarusians took to the streets on Thursday, the fifth consecutive day of protests following a presidential election that the European Union has described as "neither free nor fair."
The protests have focused on calls for long-time President Alexander Lukashenko to resign, even as electoral authorities have cited preliminary results as giving him a landslide victory of about 80 per cent of the vote.
Lukashenko, 65, has led the former Soviet republic for a quarter century, tolerating little dissent.
"We are ashamed of you!" a protester's sign read as she stood in a so-called chain of solidarity with other mostly female protesters, according to photos posted by independent news source Tut.by.
Peaceful daytime protests, with women handing out flowers, have contrasted with violent clashes between police and largely male protesters every night since the polls closed on Sunday.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that about 700 people were detained during protests the previous day. Police have conducted nearly 7,000 detentions since Sunday night, according to the official figures.
The election's official runner-up, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37, had registered as a candidate after her husband, who had been seeking to become a candidate, was jailed during the registration process.
Tikhanovskaya was closely supported by two other prominent women who represented men who wanted to be candidates, but whom electoral authorities did not allow to register.
One of those disallowed potential candidates, Valery Tsepkalo, has appealed to the EU to recognize Tikhanovskaya as Belarus' rightful president.
Lukashenko has described the protesters as "sheep" being led by foreign influencers. He ordered senior officials on Wednesday to make sure that protesters would be put to work to support the country's economy.
Belarus, whose closest ally is neighbouring Russia, is one of the poorest countries in Europe and maintains an economic structure similar to its Soviet predecessor state. Belarus' economy is dominated by massive state-owned companies.
Lukashenko, who had directed a collective farm before becoming a politician in the early 1990s, courted controversy in recent months in the run-up to the election as he dismissed concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and demanded people continue working as usual.
He said the effects on the economy if people would stop working would be worse than the virus itself.
A protester whose father was temporarily detained during a demonstration this week told dpa that factory strikes had more potential than street protests to evoke political change in the country.
"A significant change will be if factories go on strike. Otherwise I am afraid there will be no success," the protester said on condition on anonymity.
On Thursday, one of the most important companies in the country, truck producer BelAZ in the central city of Zhodzina, halted production as hundreds of workers left their posts, independent media reported.
The company's management denied that it was a strike, saying it was an organized meeting of the workers and city officials, according to comments carried by Russian state media.