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Belarus protests: State TV staff join strikes as Lukashenko remains defiant

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Media captionLarge crowds of anti-government demonstrators rallied in the capital

State TV staff in Belarus have walked out as part of strike action over the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

TV channels ran repeats when staff walked out in protest against censorship and the election results.

Other strike action is expected after a weekend when an opposition rally in the capital Minsk drew tens of thousands.

Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has meanwhile suggested she could act as an interim leader.

Opposition leaders called for the strikes as anger grew over reports of police violence as well as alleged poll-rigging in the 9 August vote.

But the country’s long-time authoritarian president, who claimed a landslide victory, remains defiant, telling his supporters on Sunday to defend their country and independence.

Mr Lukashenko has led the former Soviet republic since 1994, maintaining close relations with neighbouring Russia, on which Belarus heavily relies for energy supplies.

How great is the pressure on Lukashenko?

According to local, independent news site Tut.by, Sunday’s opposition rally in Minsk was “the largest in the history of independent Belarus”.

A wave of anger has been rising since the Central Election Commission said Mr Lukashenko had won 80.1% of the vote and Ms Tikhanovskaya – 10.12%.

Some 6,700 people were arrested in the wake of the election, and many have spoken of torture at the hands of the security services.

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Media caption‘Human life is the most precious thing’: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks out from exile

Ms Tikhanovskaya, who left for Lithuania after publicly denouncing the results, insists that where votes were properly counted, she won support ranging from 60% to 70%.

In a video message released on Monday, she said she was ready to become a “national leader” in order to restore calm and normality, freeing political prisoners and preparing for new elections.

A state TV broadcast on Monday morning showed empty news desks.

Current and former staff have been reportedly holding a rally outside the TV and radio building in Minsk.

Last week, workers at state-run factories walked out in solidarity with the protesters, and more strikes are planned for this week, increasing the pressure on Mr Lukashenko, says the BBC’s Kiev correspondent, Jonah Fisher.

But on a visit to the Minsk tractor plant on Monday, Mr Lukashenko sought to play down the extent of the strikes, saying “150 or even 200 people [going on strike] at some company is not decisive”, local independent news site tut.by reports (in Russian).

How did Sunday’s rallies play out?

Rival rallies were held in the capital, with the opposition event appearing to attract much higher numbers.

An official report said 65,000 people had attended the presidential rally but unofficial estimates were as low as 10,000. Unofficial estimates for the opposition gathering ranged between 100,000 and 220,000.

Speaking to supporters, Mr Lukashenko said Belarus would “die as a state” if a re-run of the election were to take place.

“You came here so that for the first time in a quarter-century you could defend your country, your independence, your wives, sisters and children,” he said.

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Reuters

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Mr Lukashenko described the opposition as rats

He added that the opposition would “crawl like rats out of a hole” if they were not suppressed this time.

There were reports of state sector workers being forced to attend or face the threat of losing their jobs. For days, workers at state-run factories have staged walkouts and many have joined street marches against the president.

As the president spoke, the anti-Lukashenko protesters gathered for a peaceful rally near the Stela Minsk Hero City World War Two memorial in the city centre.

Supporters also turned out in other cities, following a call for weekend rallies from Ms Tikhanovskaya.

A number of officials, as well as current and former police officers, have resigned.

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Reuters

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Protesters were out in force in Minsk on Sunday

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Reuters

The Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya, declared his solidarity with the protesters but told the BBC the government did not seem ready to hear them.

What’s happening internationally?

The UK said on Monday it did not accept the results of the “fraudulent” election.

“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,” said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in a statement. “The UK does not accept the results.”

The US has condemned the election as “not free and fair” and EU foreign ministers agreed last week to prepare new sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for “violence, repression and the falsification of election results”.

More about the protests in Belarus

President Lukashenko has sought Russian help, saying President Vladimir Putin has promised to provide comprehensive assistance in the event of any external military threat.

In a conversation on Sunday, the two men discussed “the situation in Belarus, taking into consideration the pressure the republic was being put under from outside”, the Kremlin said.

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