Belarusian workers stage sit-ins to demand president's resignation

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Factory workers, students and business owners in Belarus on Monday began a strike to demand that authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko resign after more than two months of continuing mass protests following a disputed election.

Police used stun grenades to disperse protesters and mass arrests were under way on Sunday, according to opposition Telegram channels. The protesters marched through the city center, waving red and white flags.

Several subway stations were closed, mobile internet was not working and water cannons and armoured vehicles were seen in the centre of Minsk.

Yesterday's rally in Minsk was one of the largest in weeks and drew almost 200,000 people, while smaller protests also took place in other cities. One group of students sprinted away after being dispersed by police, other footage, from the Nasha Niva outlet, showed.

In a call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday, he said Belarus and Russian Federation were ready to respond jointly to external threats, Belarusian state television reported.

His main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, got only 10 per cent of the votes and refused the recognise the outcome as valid, saying it was manipulated. But analysts said it helped mobilize opposition supporters for a new round of confrontation with authorities, which poses a significant challenge for Lukashenko, who has run the country for 26 years and until recently has been able to successfully stifle dissent.

A United Nations human rights investigator said last month that thousands of people had been "savagely beaten" and there were more than 500 reports of torture, which the authorities deny.

But the protests continued despite the crackdown and police threatening to open fire on the demonstrators.

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Tikhanovskaya had given Lukashenko until Sunday to quit power, halt violence against protesters and release political prisoners, warning he would otherwise face a general strike from Monday.

Tsikhanouskaya presented her ultimatum on October 13 after the government said police would be authorised to use combat weapons against protesters if needed. The opposition and Western countries say the vote was rigged, which he denies.

In a statement from Vilnius, Ms Tsikhanouskaya expressed support for the protesters in Belarus and said the deadline for authorities expires at 11.59pm. local time on Sunday. "That's why tomorrow, October 26, a national strike will begin".

"The regime today again showed Belarusians that violence is the only thing that it's capable of".

Tsikhanouskaya's calls for a strike fuelled the protest and turned up the pressure on Lukashenko, commentators said.

The ultimatum is an attempt to increase the political pressure on Mr Lukashenko but it also seems meant to inject new energy into the street protests.

Mr Lukashenko has signalled that he would ignore the ultimatum.

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