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Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya talks to the press after her meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Affairs Minister Sigrid Kaag in The Hague on May 28, 2021.

PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW/Reuters

Belarus’s leading opposition figure said on Friday that a nationwide strike was being planned to protest against the arrest of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.

Belarus has been subject to EU and U.S. sanctions since Lukashenko cracked down on protests after a disputed election last year. His decision to intercept an international airliner in Belarusian airspace on Sunday and arrest the 26-year-old blogger has brought restrictions on air travel and vows of much more serious action.

“We hope it (protests) will continue and workers are being prepared for a nationwide strike … people will go out on the streets again,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, now living in exile in Lithuania, told journalists after talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague.

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The Netherlands was among countries that joined a fourth round of European Union sanctions against Belarus this week.

Rutte said forcing a commercial aircraft to land showed that “the regime is clearly panicking”.

He promised to work with Tsikhanouskaya on “whatever is needed” in a fifth package of sanctions.

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