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Belarussians protest tax on 'parasites' despite concessions

BABRUYSK, Belarus Thousands took to the streets in Belarus over the weekend to protest against a tax on those deemed to be doing too little work, despite government concessions after a first wave of demonstrations.

Popularly known as the “tax on social parasites” it slaps a levy of $250 on those who work less than 183 days per year. Those officially registered unemployed are exempt but must do community service for $10 per month.

The latest protests were in provincial towns. On Sunday, at least 600 people joined a rally in Babruysk, 1,000 in Orsha and hundreds in Brest and Rogachev. On Saturday hundreds protested in Pinsk and on Friday 1,000 took to the streets in Molodechno.

Protests of this scale are rare in the former Soviet republic, run since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko, who has described himself as the “last dictator in Europe”.

    Many protesters were middle-aged and elderly people who complained there was no work for them.

A protest in the capital Minsk last month drew around 2,000 people, the largest in the country for six years. On Thursday Lukashenko said the tax, introduced in 2015, would be suspended pending amendments.

Belarus has been in recession since 2015. The average monthly salary has fallen from an all-time high of $630 in mid-2014 to $380.

On Sunday, protesters in Babruysk and Orsha called for Lukashenko’s resignation. Authorities did not use force against the protesters but more than a dozen activists were detained later.

(Reporting by Vasily Fedosenko and Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Alexei Kalmykov; editing by Matthias Williams and Andrew Roche)