MINSK -- Several thousand protesters gathered in front of the main government building in the Belarusian capital to demand a recount of the country's disputed August 9 election, which handed strongman President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term and sparked nationwide protests that have been brutally put down by security forces.
The spontaneous August 14 march was led by workers from the Minsk Tractor Works, one of numerous plants around the country where workers have walked off the job. Drivers in passing cars honked their horns in support, and there were few signs of police or security forces.
The demonstration was later joined by railway workers and others. Unverified reports put the number of protesters at as high as 20,000.
Demonstrators demanded that the August 9 election be invalidated, that a new election be held under a new Central Election Commission, and that all "political prisoners" currently in custody be released.
Security forces told demonstrators that "if the protest is peaceful, no force will be used" and warned them not to allow any "provocations."
After about four hours, the demonstrators dispersed, chanting "Every day!" to indicate their intention to continue pressing their demands.
The united campaign headquarters of the opposition has called for "peaceful demonstrations" in cities across the country on August 15 and 16. During a televised meeting with government officials, Lukashenka urged Belarusians not to attend protests, claiming that the opposition wanted "to use you and your children as cannon fodder."
He added the accusation that the protests were being organized by foreigners from Poland, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and Russia.
In remarks on the growing work stoppages earlier in the day, Lukashenka said if the strikes continued, the workers 'will not be able to feed' their families.
His remarks televised on August 14 came amid reports that Prime Minister Raman Halouchanka had met face-to-face with striking workers at two major industrial plants in Minsk.
In one of the latest work stoppages, thousands of workers at the Hrodna Azot chemical plant in the western Belarusian city of Hrodna walked off the job and met plant administrators and city authorities.
The workers held up posters, saying 'We demand Lukashenka's resignation,' 'We did not elect him,' and 'Our votes have been stolen.'
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036