More workers joined a growing strike Tuesday to oust authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after he extended his 26-year term in an election that detractors contend was rigged.
Thousands of workers began walking off the job Monday at state-controlled facilities, joining actors and broadcasters.
Unrest began to escalate after Lukashenko dismissed demands to resign following a severe police crackdown on peaceful protesters days after the August 9 election.
Lukashenko sought to secure the loyalty of law enforcement amid escalating protests and strikes by honoring more than 300 police officers for their service.
Opponents condemned Lukashenko’s awards to the police, who fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at peaceful protestors and used clubs against them, resulting in the deaths of at least two people and the detention of nearly 7,000 people. Hundreds of others were injured.
The chance of a nationwide strike would pose an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenko, who has relied on blue-collar workers as his most loyal supporters. But during a visit Monday to a factory in Minsk, he was greeted by workers who shouted “Go away!”
The first government official to challenge Lukashenko was the ambassador to Slovakia, who said in a video Saturday before he resigned that he supported the protests.
The ambassador to Spain, Pavel Pustav, posted a statement Tuesday on Facebook urging a vote recount and the prosecution of those who beat peaceful protesters.
Officials from Western countries have refused to recognize the election as free and fair, and they have denounced the police crackdown.
The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss Belarus in a closed-door session Tuesday, one day before European Union leaders are to discuss the matter.