Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Friday asked supporters to sign an online petition demanding a recount of last Sunday’s presidential election, in which she believes she was cheated out of victory.
In a video posted on YouTube, Tikhanovskaya, who is in neighbouring Lithuania, also asked supporters to demand an official investigation into allegations that the election was falsified.
She called for an end to violence, which has surged in the wake of veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election, and asked all city mayors to organize peaceful gatherings this weekend.
At least two protesters have died and around 6,700 were detained this week in the crackdown.
The government on Friday began releasing thousands of detained protesters after issuing a rare public apology in an effort to quell the nationwide protests, which pose the biggest challenge to Lukashenko in his 26 years in power.
European Union foreign ministers meet later on Friday to discuss possible new sanctions on the Belarusian leadership after its harsh crackdown on post-election protests.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday demanded the unconditional and immediate release of detained demonstrators.
Workers from state-run firms join protests
In her video, Tikhanovskaya said: “We need to stop the violence on the streets of Belarusian cities. I call on the authorities to stop it and begin dialogue…
“I ask mayors of all cities, on Aug. 15 and 16, to act as the organizers of mass, peaceful gatherings in each city or town.”
Tikhanovskaya was thrust in the role of candidate after the jailing in May of her husband, Sergei, a prominent activist.
Protesters said the fact that Lukashenko had been officially credited with 80 per cent of votes in the election showed it had been massively rigged.
Lukashenko, a 65-year-old former Soviet collective farm manager, has faced increasing anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic — which he dismissed as a “psychosis” — as well as sluggish economy and human rights.
Tens of thousands of protesters on Thursday were joined by workers from some state-run industries that are the pride of Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model, including the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) that makes trucks and buses.
Footage showed them chanting “elections” and “go away.” Local media also reported protests at the state-run haulage and earth-moving equipment manufacturer BelAZ in a town northeast of Minsk, and at the Grodno Azot chemical plant.
Protesters formed human chains and marched in the capital, backed by at least 10 television presenters and reporters from the tightly controlled state media who resigned in solidarity.
There were signs many of those workers returned as a new round of protests began on Friday morning.