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Opposition urges more Belarusians to back strike in face of "colossal pressure"

·2 min read

MOSCOW, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya appealed to Belarusians on Tuesday to throw their support behind a national strike to oust President Alexander Lukashenko, but the government insisted that companies were working as normal.

On the second day of the strike she has said will paralyse the country, Tsikhanouskaya said employees at a string of major companies were refusing to work their shifts but coming under "colossal pressure" from the authorities.

Eleven weeks after running against Lukashenko in a presidential election that the opposition and Western governments say was rigged, Tsikhanouskaya - who fled to Lithuania after the vote - is facing a critical test of her ability to mobilise popular support.

"If we help the factories go on strike, they will help us finish what we started," she said on social media. "Remember: every active peaceful step brings us closer to ending the violence, winning freedom for political prisoners and finally holding new, fair elections."

Photos and video posted on Twitter showed protests at several universities. But the opposition's strike calls have so far failed to shut down state enterprises in the former Soviet republic of 9.5 million people.

Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko said the situation was "absolutely calm", and attacked what he called "direct appeals to cause harm to our country".

A representative of heavy vehicle manufacturer MZKT, contacted by Reuters, said: "We have no strikes here. Everything is fine, we're all working."

Lukashenko, in power since 1994 and drawing on support from his key ally, Russia, ignored an ultimatum from Tsikhanouskaya to step down by Sunday and since then has stepped up his rhetoric against the opposition.

The official news agency Belta quoted him as saying that some people had become radicalised and "crossed the red line" in recent days.

"What has been launched against us is not an information war but a terrorist war on separate fronts. We must stop it," he said.

The interior ministry said more than 500 people had been arrested at anti-government protests on Monday, the first day of the strike. Some 16,000 have been detained during protests since the disputed Aug. 9 election. (Reporting by Mark Trevelyan Editing by Peter Graff)