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Lukashenko says he will close Belarus factories that are seeing protests: RIA

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visits a military firing range near Grodno, Belarus August 22, 2020. Andrei Stasevich/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said on Saturday he would close factories that have seen worker protests, the Russian RIA news agency reported, his latest attempt to quell a wave of opposition rallies since contested elections this month.

Lukashenko also suggested he would fire the workers concerned.

“If a factory is not working then let’s put a lock on its gate from Monday, let’s stop it,” RIA cited Lukashenko as saying in the town of Grodno near the border with Poland. “People will calm down and we will decide whom to invite (to work) next.”

In the biggest challenge to Lukashenko’s 26 years in power, people have taken to the streets in many Belarusian towns, including in its capital Minsk, for nearly two weeks, protesting against the result of an Aug 9 election that they say was rigged to give the president re-election.

Some workers at a number of state factories have also joined protests.

Lukashenko has denied any fraud in the vote.

His main opponent in the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has fled to neighbouring Lithuania. Without naming anybody, Lukashenko said on Saturday that arrangers of the country-wide rallies “are sitting abroad in neighbouring countries” and enjoying political support from those countries’ leaders.

In an interview with Reuters on Saturday, Tsikhanouskaya said she sees herself as a symbol of change whose role is to help deliver new elections as Lukashenko will have to quit sooner or later.

Two leading members of a newly formed opposition council in Belarus were questioned on Friday in a criminal case over what Lukashenko calls an attempt to seize power.

Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin; Additional reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Frances Kerry