Belarusian students, factory workers and pensioners answered a call by exiled opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to launch a nationwide strike this week — a fresh move to force Lukashenko to hold new elections after months of mass protests.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, right, shakes hands with newly appointed Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Ivan Kubrakov, in Minsk, Belarus, October 30, 2020.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, right, shakes hands with newly appointed Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Ivan Kubrakov, in Minsk, Belarus, October 30, 2020. (AP)

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has threatened to leave protesters "without hands," sharpening his rhetoric as hundreds marched through the streets and rallied outside universities to keep pressure on the veteran leader to resign.

"If someone touches a serviceman ... he must leave at least without hands," Lukashenko said in a televised meeting on Friday.

The ex-Soviet country sank into crisis after opponents accused Lukashenko of rigging the August 9 presidential election to extend his 26-year rule. 

He denies vote fraud and has held on to power, buoyed by support from traditional ally Russia.

More than 16,000 people have been detained in a violent crackdown by security forces that has prompted Western countries to impose new sanctions on Minsk.

Protesters rallied outside several universities on Friday in solidarity with students who were expelled this week for joining the strike, footage circulating in local media showed.

READ MORE: Belarus strikes start after Lukashenko ignores deadline to quit

'Solidarity is our weapon' 

Several hundred people at the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics chanted "well done!" and applauded teachers who went on strike in solidarity with the expelled students, a video by TUT.BY showed.

Dozens, some holding posters saying "solidarity is our weapon," protested near the law faculty of the university, according to a picture published by Radio Svoboda.

More than 100 people protested in front of a school in Minsk, a day after police detained the father of three students who had joined the protests.

"Support students and teachers. Remind the regime: we will not let the future of our country be ruined," opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said in a statement.

Dozens of factory workers have been laid off as punishment for joining the strike, according to information given by the strike groups.

The authorities have also closed several cafes and restaurants for supporting the strike, TUT.BY reported.

That included the Brø bakery in Minsk, whose founder Ilya Prokhorov wrote on Facebook that the shop had been shut by the authorities on sanitary grounds.

Lukashenko partially closed the country's land borders, replaced his interior minister and named three security hawks to new roles on Thursday in an attempt to tighten his grip.

READ MORE: Belarus opposition leader calls national strike from Monday

Source: Reuters