The Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia has resigned just days after expressing support for those protesting against president Alexander Lukashenko.
Igor Leshchenya said in an interview that it was “a logical move” after he recorded a video statement supporting the protests that have been happening in Belarus since the presidential election on August 9 that gave a sixth term to long-time leader Mr Lukashenko.
In the statement released on Saturday, Mr Leshchenya expressed “solidarity with those who came out on the streets of Belarusian cities with peaceful marches so that their voice could be heard”.
He added he was shocked by the reports of mass beatings and torture of protesters and accused Belarusian law enforcement of restoring the traditions of the Soviet secret police.
“As an ambassador, I’m appointed by the president, and it is expected that I follow the policies determined by him. The Foreign Ministry believes my civic stance has gone beyond that,” Mr Leshchenya told independent Belarusian news outlet Tut.by on Tuesday.
The president is yet to sign Mr Leshchenya’s resignation.
Mr Leshchenya, 52, was the first top government official to support the protests against Mr Lukashenko, who won 80% of the votes according to the official election.
His top challenger, former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, got only 10% and denounced the vote as rigged, demanding a recount as hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets all across Belarus in protest.
The rallies have continued despite a response from the police, who in the first four days of demonstrations detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs. At least two protesters have died.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya left the country for Lithuania in a move her campaign said was made under duress and on Monday she announced she was ready to act as a national leader to facilitate a new election.
Mr Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million since 1994, bristled at the idea and refused to cede his post despite the protests growing and attracting more and more people who used to be at the core of his electorate.
On Monday, several major state-controlled plants and factories announced strikes, with thousands of workers taking to the streets and demanding Mr Lukashenko’s resignation. Nearly 100 employees of state television also started a strike on Monday.
More factories announced strikes on Tuesday.
In the capital Minsk, several dozen people gathered in front of a theatre to support the troupe that gave notice en masse after the theatre’s director Pavel Latushko was dismissed for siding with the protesters.
The embattled president said on Monday that the country could have a new presidential election but only after approving an amended version of its constitution in a nationwide referendum.
Western officials said the elections were neither free nor fair and criticised Belarusian authorities for their crackdown on protesters.