Thousands of Belarussians take to the streets to protest 'parasite law'
By Andrei Makhovsky
MINSK (Reuters) - About 2,000 Belarussians staged one of the country's largest protests in recent years on Friday to voice their opposition to a law that imposes a tax on those not in full-time employment.
Popularly known as the "law against social parasites" it requires those who work less than 183 days per year to pay the government $250 in compensation for lost taxes.
The legislation came into effect in 2015 and has gone down badly with the Belarussian public at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet after more than two years of economic recession.
Protests of this size are rare in the former Soviet republic, run since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko, who has described himself as the "last dictator in Europe."
"I'm not going to pay (the tax). It's absurd, a return to the feudal system," said Mikhail Gutuyev, who has been unemployed since losing his job as a sales agent.
He and other protesters gathered in the main square in the capital Minsk and carried posters with slogans such as: "The president is the main parasite."
Seeking to improve ties with the EU and lessen Belarus's dependence on Russia, Lukashenko has over the past year heeded calls from the West to show greater lenience towards political opposition.
A Reuters witness at the protest said the police presence was minimal and that there was no sign the authorities wanted to prevent the demonstration from taking place. Continued...