Angry workers heckle Belarus' Lukashenko as challenges to his decades-long rule grow

Published by CNN.COM

Minsk, BelarusBelarus' embattled President Alexander Lukashenko was facing renewed waves of pressure from inside and outside the country on Monday, after fresh strikes, angry hecklers, international condemnation and a direct challenge to his position left the strongman clinging to power.

Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya offered Monday to act as the country's "National leader" to help bring peace to Belarus a day after tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of the capital Minsk to demand a new presidential election.

Independent observers have criticized the country's August 9 election for not being free or fair.

Tikhanovskaya's intervention came as much of the international community turned on Lukashenko, expressing solidarity with the activists and piling pressure on the country's longtime leader to give in to calls for another vote.

At home, the leader lost the support of state broadcasters - who aired shots of empty studios after staff walked out in protest.

Who has been in power for 26 years, bitterly resisted the growing anger even as it threatens to sink his regime, telling angry workers on Monday that "There will be no other elections."In a video message filmed in front of a blank white wall in Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya said: "I am ready to assume the responsibility and act as a national leader in order for the country to calm down and enter the normal rhythm." The opposition candidate, who fled Belarus after Lukashenko claimed victory, said she would hold a fresh vote and offered support for the swelling demonstrations and industrial action across the country.

She also appealed to the country's security forces to switch sides and turn against the President, promising to "Accept" repentant law enforcement officers - and called on Lukashenko to release political prisoners being held in jails in Belarus.

During a factory visit on Monday, Lukashenko doubled down on his combative response and again refused to acquiesce.

"We already held elections, there will be no other elections," he told employees of the MZKT plant, according to state news agency Belta.

Further industrial action is planned on Monday after numerous reports of walkouts in recent days.

Lukashenko told the throng of displeased factory workers: "Even if you shoot me tomorrow there are already other people who are going to work."The President said that he would be willing to share power and to change the constitution but won't do so under pressure from "The streets," in a reference to the mass protests.

As Lukashenko scrambled to regain control, Belarusians tuned into TV networks on Monday morning to see shots of empty desks and re-runs of old programming.

State media in Belarus has long served as one of the main propaganda tools aiding Lukashenko's 26-year grip on power, but that hold appeared to have been shattered on Monday.

Dozens of protesters and staffers also gathered at its entrance.

Ekaterina Vodonosova, an anchor who used to host a culture program on BT channel, part of Belteleradio, told CNN she resigned to protest what she says is the unfair coverage on state media.

Vodonosova also said that many of her friends are currently in detention or have been beaten and tortured in the facilities.

"I felt ashamed just thinking that I will have to go back on air and get into a BT branded car knowing that this company was doing this," Vodonosova told CNN. In previous days, about a dozen prominent state media journalists have resigned, including the head of presidential pool for ONT Dmitry Semchenko.

Some did not state the reasons publicly while others cited media censorship as their motive.

Elsewhere at Belaruskalii - a key potassium mine in the city of Soligorsk, 150 kilometers south of the Belarusian capital - miners joined nationwide actions by walking out.

Several hundred workers came out to strike outside the company's main building to demand new elections, the release of political prisoners and punishment for law enforcement officers who attacked protesters last week, local outlet TUT. BY reported.

Foreign governments have heaped further scrutiny on the longtime leader, joining calls for a fresh vote and condemning apparent human rights violations in the aftermath of the election.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that the United Kingdom "Does not accept the results" of the August 9 ballot, calling it "Unfair" and criticizing the "Grisly repression that followed."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," Raab said.

EU leaders will meet via video conference on Wednesday to discuss the situation, European Council President Charles Michel said on Monday.

"The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader," Michel said in a tweet.

"Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed.

"Meanwhile, German Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Bild newspaper on Monday that Lukashenko is a"bad dictator," adding: "I am firmly convinced that this President no longer has any legitimacy, otherwise he would not act with such incredible, such brutal, violence.

Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine are ordering us to hold new elections.

If we listen to them, we will perish," he said.

A spokeswoman for NATO, which counts Lithuania and Poland among its member states, told CNN in a statement that there was no NATO buildup in the region.

Mary Ilyushina reported from Belarus, and Rob Picheta wrote from London.