Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said Monday supporters were beginning a nationwide strike after her deadline expired for strongman Alexander Lukashenko to step down.
Streets in the capital Minsk were largely deserted on Monday morning, though all major stores and pharmacies were open, an AFP reporter said.
Tikhanovskaya had given Lukashenko until Sunday to quit power, halt violence against protesters and release political prisoners, warning he would otherwise face a general strike from Monday.
The 66-year-old Lukashenko, who the opposition accuses of stealing August polls, ignored the ultimatum and police cracked down on the latest of a series of opposition protests on Sunday.
“Today the People’s Strike is beginning,” Tikhanovskaya said on her Telegram channel.
“Employees of state factories and enterprises, transport workers and miners, teachers and students have gone on strike since this morning.”
Tikhanovskaya called on members of private businesses, clergy and athletes to join in.
The 38-year-old opposition figure, who claims to have won the August 9 election and is now based in EU member Lithuania, did not provide any figures on the number of people participating.
Independent reporting inside Belarus has been curtailed and it was not possible to immediately estimate the scale of the industrial action.
Alexander Yaroshuk, the head of the Belarusian Confederation of Democratic Trade Unions, said he was aware that some unions and individual workers were ready to strike.
“But it’s hard to predict just how far people will go given the authorities’ massive pressure,” Yaroshuk told AFP.
The ex-Soviet nation has been gripped by historic protests after Lukashenko claimed victory in the election over Tikhanovskaya, a political neophyte who ran after her blogger husband was jailed and prevented from joining the race.
The protest movement has kept up a series of large-scale demonstrations for the past two months, with tens of thousands taking to the streets every Sunday.
More than 500 people were detained at protests in Minsk and other cities on Sunday, the interior ministry said.
Several people have died and thousands were arrested in a post-election crackdown, with harrowing accounts emerging of abuse in jails.