Belarus is facing its biggest political crisis since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with tens of thousands of demonstrators saying veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko rigged the August 9 election to win.

Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the nation from Vilnius, Lithuania. August 21, 2020.
Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the nation from Vilnius, Lithuania. August 21, 2020. (Reuters)

Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on her supporters to step up their strikes at factories across the country to try to force new presidential elections.

"I ask you - continue and expand strikes. Don't be fooled by intimidation." she said in a video address on Friday. 

Belarus is facing its biggest political crisis since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with tens of thousands of demonstrators saying veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko's alleged August 9 re-election was rigged and is illegitimate.

Lukashenko has said there will be no new presidential election despite calls from the opposition and nationwide anti-government protests and strikes.

'Not another Maidan'

EU President Charles Michel, who chairs summits of European Union leaders, said the bloc's goals for the Belarus crisis were to stop violence against protesters and citizens, and ensure that the former Soviet republic does not slide into economic or military chaos.

"The Ukrainian experience is important," an EU official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"Nobody wants a repeat of what happened in Ukraine. The EU is not interested in another Euromaidan and ensuing chaos in Belarus. Belarus is not Ukraine, the people there are not seeking closer ties with the EU.

"The EU is seeking to support stability, talks between authorities, the opposition and the broader society, economic prosperity. Without tilting the geo-political balance for Belarus between the EU and Russia."

EU calls to drop criminal case against opposition

The EU called on Belarus to drop a criminal case Minsk has launched against a new opposition body this week.

"We expect the Belarusian authorities to stop the criminal case and instead to engage in a dialogue in view of moving towards a peaceful way out of the current crisis," Nabila Massrali, an EU spokeswoman for foreign policy and security affairs, said in a statement.

"The Coordination Council, which consists of representatives of different parts of Belarusian society, reached out to the authorities for a dialogue and the authorities answered with the opening of a criminal case.

In doing so, the Belarusian state authorities have once again reverted to intimidation based on political grounds." 

Probe against opposition activists

Prosecutors in Belarus opened a criminal investigation on Thursday against opposition activists who set up a council to negotiate a democratic transition of power amid massive protests against official election results that extended the 26-year rule of the country’s authoritarian leader.

Lukashenko, who has dismissed the protesters demanding his resignation as Western puppets, had threatened opposition leaders with criminal charges. 

Following up on his warning, prosecutors opened an inquiry against the new council's founders on charges of undermining national security.

The Belarusian Prosecutor General’s office said the creation of the Coordination Council that met for the first time Wednesday violated the constitution.

READ MORE: Belarus opens probe against new opposition council

EU sanctions

The EU leaders on Wednesday rejected the official results of the election that showed Lukashenko win 80 percent of the vote and expressed solidarity with protesters. The EU said it’s preparing sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for the brutal post-election police actions.

During the first four days of protests, police detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs. At least three protesters died.

The crackdown fueled massive outrage and swelled protesters’ ranks, forcing authorities to change tactics and stop breaking up crowds that grew to an unprecedented 200,000 on Sunday.

READ MORE: EU leaders urge Putin to push for talks in Belarus as more workers strike

Source: TRTWorld and agencies