The widening strikes come on the 10th straight day of unprecedented mass protests against election results that handed President Lukashenko his sixth term with 80 percent of the vote.

Employees of the National Art Museum in Belarus protest over the country's disputed presidential election in Minsk on August 18, 2020.
Employees of the National Art Museum in Belarus protest over the country's disputed presidential election in Minsk on August 18, 2020. (AFP)

More factory workers in Belarus have joined a growing strike, turning up pressure on the country's authoritarian leader to step down after winning an election they say was rigged.

Workers at more state-controlled companies and factories took part in the strike that began the day before and has encompassed several truck and tractor factories, a huge potash factory that accounts for a fifth of the world’s potash fertiliser output and is the nation’s top cash earner, state television and the country's most prominent theatre.

The widening strikes come on the 10th straight day of unprecedented mass protests against election results that handed President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term with 80 percent of the vote.

READ MORE: Belarusian president heckled by factory workers as protests continue 

The mass protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people have continued despite a brutal response from the police, who in the first four days of demonstrations detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs. At least two protesters died.

“The authorities should understand that they are losing control. Only Lukashenko's resignation and punishment of those in charge of rigging and beatings (of protesters) can calm us down," head of an independent miners' union Yuri Zakharov said on Tuesday.

“The people said their ‘no’ to Lukashenko, and we will not back down. The strike will continue and grow until he steps down.”

Lukashenko on Monday dismissed the strikes as insignificant and said he will not cave in to pressure, but appeared nervous as dissent grew. On Tuesday, reports emerged of factory managers pressuring workers to end the strike by threatening them with dismissal.

Ambassador to Slovakia resigns 

Also on Tuesday, the Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya, handed in his resignation after coming out with a statement in support of the protests.

In a video released on Saturday, Leshchenya expressed “solidarity with those who came out on the streets of Belarusian cities with peaceful marches so that their voice could be heard”. The first top government official to support the protests against Lukashenko, Leshchenya said in an interview on Tuesday that resigning after that was “a logical move”.

Lithuanian lawmakers vote for sanctions 

Lithuania’s parliament voted for economic sanctions against neighbouring Belarus on Tuesday, saying the presidential election there mustn't be internationally recognised.

“We are sending a strong message to the world today,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said after lawmakers approved the sanctions on a 120-0 vote with two abstentions. Nineteen of the 141 parliament members were absent.

The document adopted by lawmakers in the Seimas, Lithuania's national legislature, also calls for an international rejection of the legitimacy of Lukashenko's reelection.

Further details on the economic sanctions weren't immediately available.

Accused of trying to 'seize power' 

On Monday, the opposition's Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is currently taking refuge in Lithuania, announced she was ready to act as a national leader to facilitate a new election. Her top ally, Maria Kolesnikova, said Tuesday a “coordination council” is being formed to represent the people and negotiate the transition of power.

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

Kolesnikova argued that the embattled president "should hear his society, hear the people. The majority calls him a former (president)".

“Our goal is to unite society, all of Belarus, so that the Belarusian society has a legitimate institution to negotiate and make demands,” Kolesnikova said on Tuesday.

The council, which will convene for the first time on Tuesday evening, will figure out the best way for transition of power, “be it new elections or some other option”, Kolesnikova said.

During a meeting of his security council, Lukashenko said the opposition's creation of a Coordination Council was "an attempt to seize power," according to the state-run Belta news agency on Tuesday. 

EU leaders urge Putin to push for talks

European leaders have urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to push for dialogue in neighbouring Belarus.

EU chief Charles Michel said on Twitter that he had spoken to Putin by phone and added that "only peaceful and truly inclusive dialogue can resolve the crisis in Belarus".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Russian President Putin on Tuesday, according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert, and "underlined that the Belarusian government must refrain from violence against peaceful protesters, immediately release political prisoners and enter into a national dialogue with the opposition and (civil) society to overcome the crisis.”

Putin also discussed the situation in Belarus with French President Emmanuel Macron who urged the Russian leader to foster "calm and dialogue".  According to the Kremlin's description of the call, Russia's leader “stressed that interference in internal affairs of the republic (of Belarus) and pressure on the Belarusian leadership is unacceptable."

READ MORE: EU foreign ministers agree on Belarus sanctions 

In Kremlin readouts of the two calls, Putin emphasised that interfering in Belarus and putting pressure on its authorities would be "unacceptable", as the European Union moves to impose sanctions over the vote and a brutal police crackdown on protesters.

Moscow has said it is ready to step in if necessary in Belarus through the CSTO military alliance between six ex-Soviet states.

Trump says will talk to Russia 

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would talk to Russia "at the appropriate time" in the wake of protests against Belarus' leader Lukashenko that Trump said appeared mostly peaceful.

Trump, speaking at an unrelated event at the White House, added there did not seem to be too much democracy in Belarus, which has seen a wave of protests sparked by the former Soviet republic's election 10 days ago that opponents say was stolen.

"I like seeing democracy," he told reporters.

"It doesn't seem like it's too much democracy there in Belarus."

"It's certainly a very big march and it seems to be a peaceful march," he added.

Trump gave no other details about when he would hold talks with Moscow, adding that he would also speak to other people.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies