One person has died amid violent public demonstrations in Belarus that saw police fire stun grenades and use batons against protesters, after the opposition accused President Alexander Lukashenko of rigging his re-election victory.
- The US says the elections were not free or fair
- Mr Lukashenko has led Belarus for more than 25 years
- Authorities say a person died after attempting to throw an explosive device
A witness told Reuters they saw police dragging protesters out of a crowd and beating them with truncheons in the capital Minsk, and dozens of people detained. Police also blocked some roads in the city.
Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Lastovsky said one protester died after attempting to throw an explosive device, which blew up in his hand.
A journalist was hospitalised after being shot in the leg by a rubber bullet, RIA news agency reported, while local media reported clashes breaking out in other towns.
There was also concern about the whereabouts of Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who emerged from obscurity to become Mr Lukashenko’s main political opponent a few weeks ago.
Official results handed Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power for more than a quarter of a century, an 80 per cent share of the vote in Sunday’s election, while Ms Tikhanouskaya, who entered the race after her blogger husband was jailed, took around 10 per cent.
Ms Tikhanouskaya, whose campaign rallies drew some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, previously told reporters she considered herself the election winner.
“The authorities are not listening to us. The authorities need to think about peaceful ways to hand over power,” she said on Monday.
“Of course we do not recognise the results.”
Ms Tikhanouskaya submitted a formal request for a recount, and told reporters she had decided to “be with [her] children”.
It was unclear if her statement meant she was heading abroad to reunite with her children, whom she had earlier sent to an unspecified European country after receiving threats.
Riot police used force on Sunday night to disperse thousands of protesters who had gathered to denounce what they said was an electoral farce.
Rights activists said one person died after being run over by a police truck — which the authorities denied.
Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to the vote saw authorities jail Mr Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations into others who voiced opposition.
Election ‘not free and fair’, US says
The police crackdown drew harsh criticism from European capitals and will likely complicate Mr Lukashenko’s efforts to mend ties with the West amid tensions with his main ally and sponsor, Russia.
The United States was deeply concerned about the conduct of the presidential election “which was not free and fair,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“We strongly condemn ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters, as well as the use of internet shutdowns to hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations,” he said in a statement.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief and its commissioner for enlargement said the election had been marred by “disproportionate and unacceptable state violence against peaceful protesters”.
Neighbouring Poland said it wanted a special EU summit on Belarus, while Germany called for the European Union to discuss sanctions on Belarus that were lifted in 2016 to foster better relations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin used a congratulatory telegram to nudge Mr Lukashenko to accept deeper ties between the two nations, which the Belarusian leader has previously rejected as an assault on his country’s independence.
Mr Lukashenko faces his biggest challenge in years to hold onto power amid discontent over his handling of the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and human rights abuses. But he signalled he would not step down.
“The response will be appropriate. We won’t allow the country to be torn apart,” the 65-year-old leader was quoted by the Belta news agency as saying.
Mr Lukashenko repeated allegations that shadowy forces abroad were trying to manipulate protesters, which he called “sheep”, in order to topple him, something he said he’d never allow.
“They are trying to orchestrate mayhem,” he said.
“But I have already warned: there will be no revolution.”