Some 2,500 people protest "parasite" tax in central Minsk

An estimated crowd of some 2,500 people marched through central Minsk on Friday evening to express protest against the so-called parasite tax imposed on non-working people by Alyaksandr Lukashenka's April 2015 decree.+

Called the March of Angry Belarusians, the unsanctioned demonstration featured a number of opposition politicians, including former presidential candidates Mikalay Statkevich and Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, as well as Pavel Sevyarynets, a co-chairperson of Belarusian Christian Democracy. Many people were seen displaying anti-government signs and white-red-white flags. One masked man was holding up a sign calling Mr. Lukashenka the "main parasite" in Belarus.

The march began at 6 p.m. with a rally in Kastrychnitskaya Square, during which participants adopted a resolution protesting the tax.

Addressing the crowd, Mr. Statkevich said that Belarus was the only country in the world where jobless people were ordered to pay an additional tax. "We will not let them do that! We've had enough of that. It's time to say 'no'," said the politician.

Henadz Fyadynich, leader of the Belarusian Union of Electronic Industry Workers, said that 45,000 people had already signed a petition calling for the abolition of the tax. "The regime prevents people from living independently, without a good government," he said. "The regime tested the limits of the people's patience and our people has run out of patience, it is here. We have gathered for the first time [to protest the tax] but I think it's not the last time."

The demonstrators were also addressed by an unnamed "anarchist" activist who urged the public to fight against all unfair taxes.

The resolution demanded that the government scrap the tax, as well as stop the fall in household incomes, reverse its decision to raise the retirement age, freeze utility rates, and conduct free and fair elections.

It warned that if the government took no steps to fulfill the demands before March 17, 2017, new protests would take place.

The crowd then walked in a procession from the square along Independence Avenue and reached the seemingly empty building of the Ministry of Taxes and Duties at around 7 p.m. Organizers told the crowd that the demonstration was over and the resolution would be sent out to government agencies.

Mr. Statkevich suggested that people stage another protest on March 25 if the demands were not fulfilled. "There are many of us today but if there are several times as many people, we will not only have the decree abolished but will also send Lukashenka packing," he said. The remark was followed by "Go!" chants that lasted for about a minute.

Some demonstrators were seen burning notices sent to them by tax offices in a bucket on the steps at the entrance to the building.

In an interview with BelaPAN, Mr. Statkevich said that the demonstration had achieved its goals. According to him, the authorities will either have to fulfill the demonstrators' demands or jail the thousands of participants or face "a crowd 10 times bigger" next time.

It was not immediately known whether anyone was arrested in connection with the protest.

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