Belarus opposition rejects 'rigged' election results

Joanna Estrada
August 10, 2020

Riot police clashed with thousands of protesters in Belarus after Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in presidential elections to extend his 26-year rule amid opposition accusations of massive fraud.

Police block a road and use smoke grenades during a protest after the Belarusian presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. A human rights group said one protester was killed and about 120 arrested.

The protests began shortly after a state exit poll showed Lukashenko winning the national election with 79.7% of the vote, with just 6.8% going to his main opposition rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has been leading a groundswell movement to remove him.

Tikhanouskaya told reporters in Minsk she considered herself the election victor not Lukashenko.

"I hope that law enforcement officials will come to their senses and switch to the people's side, then the night in Minsk will end without blood", said Veronika Tsepkalo, the wife of a barred candidate who threw her support behind Tikhanouskaya.

Ms Tikhanovskaya entered the election in place of her jailed husband and went on to lead large opposition rallies.

Lukashenko, 65, a former Soviet collective farm boss, had faced unprecedented protests against his rule before the vote, after opposition groups united behind Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old former teacher, when other contenders were either jailed or kept off the ballot.

Police and protesters clashed in Belarus' capital and the major city of Brest on Sunday after the presidential election in which the authoritarian leader who has ruled for a quarter-century sought a sixth term in office.

Before the result was announced, Lukashenko said he did not expect foreign countries to recognize it.

"I will believe my own eyes - the majority was for us", Tikhanovskaya said Sunday.

Preliminary results had not yet been announced, although the election chief had said she expected them in the early hours of Monday. She joined with two other women, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo, to focus an unprecedented wave of dissatisfaction against Lukashenko.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told the BNS news agency on Monday that "it's hard to call this election transparent, democratic and free, regrettably".

"What has happened is very bad", Ms Tsikhanouskaya told reporters.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said that police efforts to restore order were continuing overnight, but wouldn't say how many people were detained.

"The election night was marred with disproportionate and unacceptable state violence against peaceful protesters".

"Dozens of people were wounded as a result of clashes with law enforcement agencies".

In comments broadcast on television, Lukashenko, who had earlier warned that his opponents wanted to stir up unrest, said: "No one will let anything get out of control". He was followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and the leader of Azerbaijan, Ilkham Aliyev.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe was not invited to send observers to the election.

The coronavirus-induced economic damage and Lukashenko's swaggering response to the pandemic, which he airily dismissed as "psychosis", has fueled broad anger, helping swell the opposition ranks.

Belarus, a country of 9.5 million people, has reported more than 68,500 coronavirus cases and 580 deaths but critics have accused authorities of manipulating the figures to downplay the death toll.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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