Leaders of a strike in the Byelorussian capital, Minsk, voted Thursday to end a walkout by 200,000 workers after republic leaders agreed to discuss their economic and political demands.
Workers on the second shift in several Minsk area factories were reporting for work as usual Thursday afternoon, strike leaders said. The first-shift workers had walked off the job in the morning, following Wednesday's daylong strike at scores of factories and plants.The strike, triggered by steep price increases that took effect nationwide April 2, was called to demand higher pay and sweeping changes in the republic and national governments.
Together with a strike by miners across the country, the walkout in Byelorussia reflected bitter disappointment with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, whose promises of free-market reforms and greater democratization are meeting with increasing skepticism.
Strike leader Georgi Mukhin said the agreement to suspend the strike was reached with Byelorussian Vice President Stanislav Shushkevich and the first deputy prime minister, Vladislav Piluta.
Mukhin said all of the strike committees' economic and political demands remained open for negotation, which could begin as early as Friday.
"The main victory for us is that the people now understand that they cannot live in the old way any longer," Mukhin told The Associated Press.
He said the agreement brought dignity and respect to the workers. With it, Byelorussians could live "not like animals, but like human beings," he said.
Byelorussia, a western republic traditionally loyal to the Kremlin, was seething with anger at unfulfilled promises and plummeting purchasing power.
Workers ignored threats of lost pay and walked off the job on Wednesday. They emptied a bicycle factory, a thermal plastics plant, a yarn factory, a television plant and an electronic instruments plant.
After word of the agreement was reached, thousands of protesters who had gathered in central Lenin Square approved it with a show of hands, strike leaders said. The square then began emptying.
The square had been the scene of a mass rally on Wednesday, when tens of thousands of people streamed out of their workplaces and joined a strike for higher wages following the price increases.
Meanwhile, Soviet soldiers raided four Georgian villages in a violence-torn enclave of the southern republic and arrested 21 local police, Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia said.
The independent news agency Interfax quoted the Soviet Interior Ministry as saying 25 armed Georgians and 12 Ossetians were detained in the sweep Wednesday, and one "Ossetian hitman who offered resistance" was killed.
Soviet officials defended the military action in the troubled South Ossetia region as part of a larger operation to end a cargo blockade of the area.