By Vatican News staff writer
Monday's general strike, called by the opposition, went ahead after President Lukdashenko defied a midnight ultimatum to surrender power.
Three months have gone by since the disputed election in which Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, declared a landslide victory in the former Soviet republic despite the claim by the opposition and by Western countries that the vote was rigged.
Mass demonstrations have been taking place since then and around 15,000 people have been arrested during a crackdown on the protests and nearly all opposition leaders have fled or been jailed.
In Monday’s national strike factory workers chanted slogans and students took to the streets. After having detai .ned over 520 protesters on Sunday, tv footage showed riot police throwing stun grenades and more people men and women, old and young - being arrested and taken away in police vans.
The past was the 11th straight weekend of huge demonstrations in the capital Minsk and in other major cities.
The strike has been called by exiled opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who has urged Belarusians to block roads, shut down workplaces, stop using government shops and services and withdraw all money from their bank accounts.
If sustained, analysts say, it could open a new phase in the crisis, testing whether the opposition has the mass support it needs to bring enterprises across the country of 9.5 million people to a halt.
Just last week Tsikhanouskaya received the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Award for Human Rights for “the courage, resilience and determination of the Belarusian opposition”.
Pope Francis has said he is following the situation in Belarus and he has appealed for dialogue, for the rejection of violence and for the respect for justice and rights in the country. (Source: reuters and other news agencies)