As workers across Belarus walked off the job Monday to kick off a general strike over an August 9 presidential election widely condemned as rigged, employees at a state-run military vehicles factory loudly heckled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko while he delivered a speech attempting to justify his authoritarian rule and brutal crackdown on demonstrators.
Workers yelled "Go away!" and "Resign!" at Lukashenko, whose grip on power is showing signs of slipping after more than two decades as president of the Eastern European nation.
Lukashenko, who declared victory on August 9 after a government poll showed he won 80% of the vote, said in response to the heckling workers that he has no plans to grant protesters' demand for new elections, telling the factory employees, "We held elections, and as long as you don't kill me, there won't be any other elections."
"You know my cruelty," Lukashenko continued. "You know if not [for] my cruelty, there would be no country."
Just look at him while workers are chanting: "Go Away! Go Away" pic.twitter.com/zEiXTjlITZ
— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 17, 2020
The general strike began just a day after hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Belarus in what was characterized as the largest protest in the country's history.
As the Washington Post reported Monday:
The strikes at state-owned factories indicate the crumbling of bedrock support from Lukashenko's traditional base. Even workers at Belteleradiocompany, state TV and radio, walked off their jobs demanding the resignation of the head of the Central Elections Commission, the release of political prisoners, and new free and fair elections.
Strikes were reported at the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant, one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of potash fertilizer; Belaruskalii, the Minsk Automobile Plant; and the Belarusian Metallurgical Plant. Workers at Belarusian oil company Naftan and the Mozyr Refinery were also on strike.
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Video footage posted to social media showed an empty set on a state-run morning television program after workers walked out in protest:
Protest actions at state media companies in Belarus.
-Some workers of at least 3 major state media companies announced strikes:
-These are the most important national TV & Radio Stations
Pic: Morning show was cancelled on Mon pic.twitter.com/IumNojRvAr
— Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka (@alesherasimenka) August 17, 2020
Sergei Dylevsky, the leader of a large strike at the Minsk Tractor Plant, told the Associated Press that "Lukashenko is a former president."
"He needs to go," said Dylevsky.
In a tweet Monday morning, European Council President Charles Michel announced he will call an emergency meeting of the body's 27 member nations to discuss the turmoil in Belarus.
"The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader," wrote Michel. "Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed."