The United States is monitoring the "terrible situation" unfolding in Belarus, calls on Russia to "respect Belarus’ sovereignty".

People attend an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, August 17, 2020.
People attend an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, August 17, 2020. (Reuters)

Demonstrators have descended on the Belarusian capital for a ninth night of protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, who was heckled by factory workers as pressure grows for him to step down.

Lukashenko flew by helicopter to a factory in the capital of Minsk to rally support, but he was met by angry workers chanting, “Go away!”

He told the workers: “I will never cave in to pressure.”

The embattled president said the country could have a new presidential election, but only after approving an amended version of its constitution in a nationwide referendum.

Meanwhile, Several thousand protesters gathered at Independence Square in central Minsk, waving the red-and-white flag of the opposition, chanting "leave" and calling on the ex-Soviet country's authoritarian leader to resign.

Demonstrators also marched to detention centres demanding the release of opposition leaders and protesters arrested during rallies against the results of a presidential election on August 9 that Lukashenko claims to have won with 80 percent of the vote.

US warns Russia

The US has called on Russia to "respect Belarus’ sovereignty" after growing strikes across Belarus.

The United States believes mass protests in Belarus make clear the government of the longtime president "can no longer ignore" calls for democracy there, a senior Trump administration official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said Russia should stay out of the situation brewing in the Eastern European country, saying Moscow "must also respect Belarus’ sovereignty and the right of its people to freely and fairly elect their own leaders."

Security forces have clashed with protesters in Minsk and other cities.

Lukashenko said on Monday he would be ready to hold new elections and hand over power after a constitutional referendum in an attempt to pacify the protests and strikes that pose the biggest challenge yet to his 26-year rule.

Trump calls it a 'terrible situation'

US President Donald Trump called it a "terrible situation" unfolding in Belarus.

The senior administration official said the United States was closely following developments in Belarus.

"President Lukashenko’s remarks today reflect this realisation, though power sharing still does not address the lack of free and fair elections."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday said the United States is discussing the situation in Belarus with the European Union after the disputed election and subsequent crackdown on protesters.

Speaking in Warsaw, his last stop on a tour of central Europe, Pompeo said Washington was tracking the situation in Belarus and that the aim of US contacts with the EU was to "try to help as best we can the Belarusian people achieve sovereignty and freedom."

The situation in Belarus, a strategically important country that carries Russian energy exports to the West, is fluid after the biggest demonstration yet against Lukashenko's rule on Sunday.

EU to hold emergency video talks

EU leaders will hold emergency video talks on the crisis in Belarus.

The meeting was called by EU Council President Charles Michel after Russia said it was ready to provide military help to its ally Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years.

"The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader," Michel tweeted, saying Wednesday's virtual meeting would begin at 1000 GMT.

"Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed."

A European source said Michel decided to call the summit in view of the spike in tensions over the weekend.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, welcomed the talks, tweeting: "The people of Belarus need to know that the EU stands by them firmly, and that those responsible for human rights violations and for violence will be sanctioned."

The EU has also called called for a "thorough and transparent investigation" into reports of abuse and mistreatment of thousands of protesters detained in Belarus following the contested presidential vote.

"These peaceful demonstrations had clear demands: the release of all unlawfully detained people, the prosecution of those responsible for police brutality, and holding of new presidential elections," the bloc's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a statement.

"The sheer numbers clearly show that the Belarusian population wants change, and wants it now. The EU stands by them."

"With more and more shocking reports of inhumane conditions and treatment in places of detention, the European Union expects a thorough and transparent investigation into all alleged abuses, in order to hold those responsible to account."

'NATO Allies are watching developments'

NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance remained vigilant about events in Belarus and was ready to protect its allies, but that it posed no threat to Minsk.

"NATO Allies are watching developments in Belarus closely," he said in a statement on Monday.

"NATO does not pose a threat to Belarus and has no military buildup in the region. We remain vigilant, strictly defensive, and ready to deter any aggression against NATO Allies," he added.

Ukraine recalls ambassador

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he has recalled the ambassador to Belarus for consultations to assess the prospects of further bilateral relations between the two neighbours "in the new reality."

"The development of events in Belarus, whose society has expressed a vote of no confidence in the official results of the presidential elections in Belarus, is fundamentally changing the situation in Belarusian-Ukrainian relations," Kuleba said in a statement.

Willing to share power, change constitution 

Belarusian leader Lukashenko has said he's willing to share power and to change the constitution, but that he was not prepared to do so under pressure from protesters.

Lukashenko said on Monday that work was already underway on possible changes to the constitution that could redistribute power, Belta state media reported.

The 65-year-old president claimed on Sunday that Western powers were gathering military units in countries along Belarus’ western borders and denounced suggestions by some Western nations that Belarus should repeat the August 9 presidential vote, which opposition supporters say gave Lukashenko a victory only through massive fraud. 

Official results say he received 80 percent of the vote.

Protests at TV channel and plant

Protesters gathered outside a factory and the headquarters of state TV in Minsk following a call from Belarus's opposition for a general strike over a disputed election.

AFP journalists saw protesters waving the opposition's red-and-white flag at the TV channel and the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT), where Lukashenko was visiting.

Workers at the Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ) also said that several thousand staff had walked off the job.

Footage posted by the tut.by news website showed crowds of workers from other plants marching to the MZKT plant to join the protest.

Protesters at the plant chanted "Leave!" and "We will not forget, we will not forgive."

Senior opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova joined the crowd and urged them to head next to the state TV offices.

"We are going to (state) TV to support our colleagues in the resistance," she said.

Lukashenko met with workers at the plant and downplayed the protests, saying that in general factories were working.

"If anyone does not want to work and wants to walk out ... please the doors are open," state news agency Belta quoted him as saying.

He again rejected calls to step down, saying, "You will never expect me to do something under pressure."

Huge challenge 

The protests have posed the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenko's iron-fisted rule of the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million.

Belarusian authorities initially tried to suppress the rallies, detaining almost 7,000 people in the first days of the protests. Police moved aggressively, using stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, injuring scores of people.

However, as protests grew and the harsh crackdown drew criticism in the West, law enforcement refrained from interfering with the crowds and appeared all but absent during a rally on Sunday that attracted some 200,000 people.

READ MORE:  EU to discuss sanctions on Belarus after disputed election

Ready to be 'national leader'

The main challenger in Belarus's disputed presidential election said that she was ready to take over the country's leadership after a wave of protests against Lukashenko.

"I did not want to be a politician. But fate decreed that I'd find myself on the front line of a confrontation against arbitrary rule and injustice," Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said in a new video from exile in Lithuania.

"I am ready to take responsibility and act as a national leader during this period."

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who ran after other potential candidates including her husband were jailed, accuses Lukashenko of rigging the election and has called for a new vote.

READ MORE: Belarus opposition head says she's ready to lead the nation

UK rejects 'fraudulent' vote

The UK said it did not recognise the "fraudulent" Belarus presidential vote, which saw Lukashenko re-elected and denounced the "grisly repression" of unprecedented protests over the result.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also threatened sanctions against those responsible and called for an independent international probe.

"The world has watched with horror at the violence used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the peaceful protests that followed this fraudulent presidential election.

The UK does not accept the results," Raab said.

German president urges military in Belarus not to use violence

Germany's president urged the military in Belarus not to use violence as Belarusians protest against what demonstrators say was the fraudulent re-election a week ago of the country's longtime president.

"I urge the Belarusian military not to sin against their own people by using force," said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose post is largely ceremonial.

Steinmeier, who said he admired the demonstrators' courage, urged Lukashenko to seek dialogue with them and said the people in Belarus deserved solidarity and support.

Lithuania says will not react to Belarus troop movements

Lithuania said it would not react to a Belarus military exercise being carried out near its border and will closely monitor Belarus' plans to move additional troops to the region.

"We believe (the exercise) does not pose a large threat to our national security and I can assure you that Lithuania will not react in any way," said Dainius Gaizauskas, chair of a parliamentary committee on national security and defence.

President Gitanas Nauseda asked government agencies to monitor Belarus' plans to deploy additional troops to the Grodno region and inform him immediately of any developments, his adviser told reporters.

Belarus' EU and NATO neighbours Lithuania and Poland have taken a lead in European diplomacy on Belarus and both called for new fair elections.

Lithuania has also given refuge to Belarusian opposition challenger Tikhanovskaya.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies