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Photo credit: Victoria Jones/ PA Wire/ PA Images
Photo credit: Victoria Jones/ PA Wire/ PA Images
Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images
Victoria Jones/PA Wire
World News

Church leaders call for UK support as protests for reform in Belarus ramp up

by Tola Mbakwe

Catholic bishops in the UK have called for the Government to collaborate with other countries to address the human rights abuses in Belarus.

Tuesday marked the tenth straight day of mass protests over the official results of the 9th August presidential election that demonstrators say was rigged. 

On Monday, workers heckled and jeered President Alexander Lukashenko as he visited a factory and strikes grew across Belarus, raising the pressure on the leader to step down after 26 years in power.

Mr Lukashenko said the country could have a new presidential election, but only after approving an amended version of its constitution.

He told the factory workers that those who intend to strike could leave if they want, but he added that the protests are ruining the economy and said the country would collapse if he steps down.

As he spoke, over 5,000 striking workers from the Minsk Tractor Plant marched down the streets of the city, joining an increasing number of state-controlled factories across the nation of 9.5 million in walking off the job.

Miners at the huge potash factory in Soligorsk also said they were joining the strike. The giant Belaruskali factory that accounts for a fifth of the world's potash fertiliser output is the nation's top cash earner.

The strikes follow a dispersal of peaceful, post-election demonstrations last week that were met by rubber bullets, tear gas, clubs and stun grenades.

At least 7,000 were detained by riot police, one protester was killed and hundreds were wounded.

The workers want Mr Lukashenko to give way to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leading opposition candidate in the election.

In a video statement on Monday, Ms Tsikhanouskaya said she was prepared to step in.

"I'm ready to take on the responsibility and act as a national leader in order for the country to calm down, return to its normal rhythm, in order for us to free all the political prisoners and prepare legislation and conditions for organising new presidential elections," she said.

After the police crackdown and reports of abuse provoked widespread anger, the authorities relented, allowing big weekend protests and releasing many of the detainees. The Interior Ministry said that just 122 detainees were still in custody as of Monday.

Rt Rev Declan Lang, Catholic Bishop of Clifton and the chair of the Bishops' International Affairs department said in a statement on Tuesday:

"At 5pm this evening we will join with Christians across Europe, to say the Lord's Prayer for justice and peace in Belarus.

"We stand in solidarity with the Belarusian people and are profoundly concerned by the arbitrary detention and torture of those calling peacefully for democratic reform.

"I urge our own government to continue its important collaboration with other countries in addressing these grave human rights abuses and promoting an inclusive dialogue to end the violence, as called for by the Bishops' Conference of Belarus."

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