Minsk, Belarus (CNN)Belarus’ embattled President Alexander Lukashenko was facing renewed waves of pressure from inside and outside the country on Monday, after fresh strikes, international condemnation and a direct challenge to his position left the strongman clinging to power.
Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya offered Monday to act as the country’s “national leader” to help bring peace to Belarus a day after tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of the capital Minsk to demand a new presidential election.Independent observers have criticized the country’s August 9 election for not being free or fair. Tikhanovskaya’s intervention came as much of the international community turned on Lukashenko, expressing solidarity with the activists and piling pressure on the country’s longtime leader to give in to calls for another vote.The choices facing Putin in Belarus are all fraught with risk But the President, who has been in power for 26 years, has bitterly resisted those pleas, telling angry workers on Monday that “there will be no other elections.”Read MoreIn a video message filmed in front of a blank white wall in Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya said: “I am ready to assume the responsibility and act as a national leader in order for the country to calm down and enter the normal rhythm.” The opposition candidate, who fled Belarus after Lukashenko claimed victory, said she would hold a fresh vote and offered support for the swelling demonstrations and industrial action across the country.She also appealed to the country’s security forces to switch sides and turn against the President, promising to “accept” repentant law enforcement officers — and called on Lukashenko to release political prisoners being held in jails in Belarus.During a factory visit on Monday, Lukashenko doubled down on his combative rhetoric and again refused to acquiesce. “We already held elections, there will be no other elections,” he told employees of the MZKT plant, according to state news agency Belta. “You should never expect me to do anything under pressure.” But videos posted online and broadcast on Belarusian media showed workers chanting: “Leave, leave, leave!” during his address — another sign that the strongman’s traditional support base is crumbling. Lukashenko addresses factory employees on Monday. Further industrial action is planned on Monday after numerous reports of walkouts in recent days. Foreign governments have heaped further scrutiny on the longtime leader, joining calls for a fresh vote and condemning apparent human rights violations in the aftermath of the election.British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that the United Kingdom “does not accept the results” of the August 9 ballot, calling it “unfair” and criticizing the “grisly repression that followed.””The world has watched with horror at the violence used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the peaceful protests that followed this fraudulent Presidential election,” Raab said.EU leaders will meet via video conference on Wednesday to discuss the situation, European Council President Charles Michel said on Monday. “The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader,” Michel said in a tweet. “Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed.”Belarus opposition supporters at a rally in central Minsk on Sunday.Their interventions came after Belarus’ ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leschenya, declared his “solidarity” with opposition protesters, in a video posted on Sunday by Nasha Niva, a newspaper in Belarus.Introducing himself as “the oldest head of the Belarusian mission abroad by experience as an ambassador,” Leschenya said he was “shocked by the stories of torture and beatings of my fellow citizens.”Belarusians accuse authorities of torture and humiliation during mass detentionsAlthough there was no official count, CNN crew in the Belarusian capital Minsk estimated that around 50,000 people attended the opposition protest on Sunday afternoon, making it one of the largest demonstrations in the country in recent memory.Lukashenko gave a speech to a smaller crowd of government supporters a few streets away, in which he claimed Belarus was being threatened by foreign interference.”There is a build-up of military power on the western borders of the country. Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine are ordering us to hold new elections. If we listen to them, we will perish,” he said. A spokeswoman for NATO, which counts Lithuania and Poland among its member states, told CNN in a statement that there was no NATO buildup in the region.