Updated at 20:51,24-11-2020

Biden vows to back Belarus opposition in removing Lukashenko

The Guardian

Biden vows to back Belarus opposition in removing Lukashenko
Belarusian opposition supporters hold a rally in Minsk to reject the results of the presidential election. Joe Biden has vowed to stand by the protesters. Photograph: Reuters
Democratic presidential hopeful accuses Donald Trump of failing to speak up for people of Belarus after disputed election

Joe Biden has voiced support for Belarus’s opposition in its general strike against President Alexander Lukashenko, saying the embattled leader’s reign was illegitimate.

Biden, who leads President Donald Trump in polls ahead of next week’s US election, promised if he wins to “significantly expand” sanctions alongside European allies against “Lukashenko’s henchmen”.

“Although President Trump refuses to speak out on their behalf, I continue to stand with the people of Belarus and support their democratic aspirations,” Biden said in a statement. “I also condemn the appalling human rights abuses committed by the Lukashenko regime.

“No leader who tortures his own people can ever claim legitimacy … I will continue to join Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and the people of Belarus in calling for the peaceful transfer of power, the release of all political prisoners, and free and fair elections so the Belarusian people are finally able to exercise the democratic rights for which they have sacrificed so much.”

Workers at factories on Monday started a strike after a deadline for Lukashenko to resign set by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who contested him in August elections.

Despite the sight of large columns of protesters in the streets again – and the sense that the protest has regained some of the momentum it has lost in recent weeks – there was no sign of significant numbers of workers at state-controlled plants joining the strike for any sustained length of time.

In those places where workers did try to strike, authorities stepped in brutally. At Grodno Azot, one of the country’s leading chemical factories, more than 100 would-be strikers were arrested, the human rights organisation Vyasna reported.

Tikhanovskaya says she won the election, which was widely regarded as rigged. Lukashenko insists he was the victor and has deployed deadly force during two months of nationwide protests.

US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun visited Tikhanovskaya in August in Lithuania, where she fled after receiving threats, and the United States and European Union have joined in sanctions against Lukashenko associates.

On Saturday, secretary of state Mike Pompeo called on Lukashenko to seek the release of a US citizen and voice support for “the democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus”, according to the State Department.