Minsk, Oct 25 (efe-epa).- More than 100,000 Belarusians took to the streets of Minsk and other cities on the 11th consecutive Sunday of anti-government protests, this time on the so-called “People’s Ultimatum Day” against President Alexandr Lukashenko, demanding that he resign by midnight and free all political prisoners.
“Today at 11:59 pm, the People’s Ultimatum starts and, if the demands are not met, Belarusians will begin a national strike,” warned opposition-leader-in-exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on the Telegram television channel.
Later, with Lukashenko’s failure to respond by the deadline to – and comply with – the ultimatum, Tikhanovskaya issued another statement, saying: “The regime once again has demonstrated today to Belarusians that violence is the only thing it has. But detonating stun grenades against people and below the windows of maternity hospitals is not power. The regime is not ready to fulfill the demands of the people. This means that this regime is not worthy of the Belarusian people and it means that it is losing power.”
“Thus, tomorrow, Oct. 26, a national strike will begin. Belarusians will take this step because their word is law. The law, which they tried to deny to us, but which we will definitively regain. And our main peaceful weapon, solidarity, will help us,” she added.
On Oct. 13, the woman who was Lukashenko’s main rival in the Aug. 9 presidential election – the results of which are not recognized as valid by the opposition or by the West – gave the president 12 days to tender his resignation, free all political prisoners and put an end to police repression in the East European state which used to be part of the former Soviet Union but is still closely allied with Moscow.
The opposition had threatened that if Lukashenko – often called “Europe’s last dictator” – did not abandon the presidency before midnight, after 26 years in power, it would call a nationwide strike starting on Monday, block roadways and boycott state-run stores.
In the supermarkets, pharmacies and food stores in Minsk there is still no shortage of goods for sale.
The US Embassy in Minsk last Friday issued an alert for its citizens amid fears that there could be clashes between the security forces and demonstrators starting on Monday, and it recommended staying away from any massive protests and laying in a stock of “at least three days” of food, water, medicines and cash.
More than 100,000 Belarusians, according to the opposition, on Sunday supported the opposition ultimatum issued to the president and his regime.
A human flood moved through downtown Minsk carrying red and white flags, the symbol of the opposition.
Armored vehicles and water cannons, along with a large number of security personnel, were stationed on every corner to impede the marchers.
The Independence Palace, Lukashenko’s official residents, was protected by large contingent of special forces and armored vehicles.
Other opposition marches were staged in the cities of Grodno, Brest, Lida, Gomel, Vitebsk, Polotsk and Novopolotsk.
In Lida, security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and arrested dozens of protesters.
There were also arrests in other cities, including Minsk, where the explosions of stun grenades could be heard.
The Belarusian human rights organization Vesna so far has reported 220 arrests.
At present, Minsk has only acknowledged about 120 arrests, according to the Russian RIA Novosti news agency.
At least one person was wounded by rubber bullets fired by security forces, according to eyewitnesses quoted by local media.
The Interior Ministry has acknowledged the use of “special measures” to suppress the unauthorized march.
“Today is the day of choice. Each members of the security forces must choose today who to protect: their people or their bosses. Each official must choose today whom to serve: the people or the regime,” Tikhanovskaya emphasized in her message to the Belarusian administration.