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Belarus elections: Post-poll clashes predict Lukashenko re-election



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Media titleSeveral thousand protesters gathered near a central monument in the Belarusian capital, Minsk

Protesters and riot police clashed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, and other cities after a poll on state television said incumbent Alexander Lukashenko had been re-elected in Sunday̵

7;s election.

In Minsk, police used stun grenades to disperse crowds in the city center. There have been reports of injuries.

The poll of state television broadcasts showed that Mr. Lukashenko won almost 80% of the vote.

Leading opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said she did not trust the figures that gave her 7%.

“I believe my eyes and see that most are with us,” she told a news conference Sunday evening.

The opposition had said it expected the vote to be rigged, saying it would hold an alternate number of votes.

Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, ran in the election in place of her jailed husband and continued to lead large opposition rallies.

Mr Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has vowed that the situation in the country will remain “under control”.

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The conclusion of Sunday’s poll had a clash with activists and journalists amid the largest opposition demonstrations in the country in years.

What’s happening now in Belarus?

In Minsk, clashes were reported near the Minsk-Hero city monument in the city center late Sunday.

Witnesses and correspondents say rebel police used rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse demonstrators.

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Reuters

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Protesters say President Lukashenko must step down

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Reuters

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A number of people were arrested on Sunday evening

Several ambulances were seen rushing to the scene.

Footage of protesters fighting riot police in the capital has surfaced, and media reports say a number of people have been arrested.

Referring to Mr Lukashenko, street crowds chanted “Go away!”

Similar protests are taking place overnight in Brest and Zhodino.

Internet monitoring group NetBlocks earlier said the connection had been “significantly disrupted” throughout Belarus, with the situation worsening throughout the day and creating an “information vacuum”.

What is the context?

Sometimes referred to as the last dictator of Europe, President Lukashenko, 65, was first elected in 1994.

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EPA

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Mr Lukashenko cast his ballot at a polling station in Minsk

In the last vote in 2015, he was declared the winner with 83.5% of the vote. There were no serious challengers, and election observers reported problems counting and collecting votes.

This year’s election is being held amid growing signs of frustration in his leadership.

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EPA

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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has appeared as the wild card of the race

The campaign had the rise of Ms. Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher who became a stay-at-home mother until she came into the political spotlight.

  • The mother who challenges an authoritarian president

After her husband was arrested and blocked from registering to vote, she entered his country.

In the run-up to the election, she told the BBC that people in Belarus do not believe the election will be fair.

“But I still believe our president will realize his time is up. People no longer want him,” she said.

President Lukashenko has dismissed Ms Tikhanovskaya as a “little girl” manipulated by foreign “doll masters”.

Tens of thousands opposed an escalating opposition attack last month to take part in a protest in the capital Minsk, the largest such demonstration in a decade.

Since the start of the election campaign in May, more than 2,000 people have been arrested, according to the Viasna Center for Human Rights.

On the eve of the vote, Ms. Tikhanovskaya’s team said her campaign manager had been arrested and would not be released until Monday.

And on Sunday, as people voted, online service was “significantly disrupted,” according to NetBlocks online monitor. Opposition supporters say this makes it harder for evidence of election fraud to be collected and disseminated.

There were already concerns about a lack of scrutiny because observers were not invited to monitor the election and more than 40% of the ballots were cast before election day.

Was anyone else running?

There were three other candidates:

  • Anna Kanopatskaya, a former MP who won a rare seat for the opposition in the 2016 parliamentary elections
  • Sergei Cherechen, leader of the Social Democrat party
  • Andrei Dmitriyev, co-chair of the Tell the Truth movement, a campaign group attacked by authorities

The two main opposition figures were not allowed to run and threw their weight after Ms. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign.

One of them, Valery Tsepkalo, left Belarus before the competition, for fear of arrest. His wife Veronika stood behind him, becoming a major campaign for Ms. Tikhanovskaya.

It turned out on Sunday that Ms. Tsepkalo had also left Belarus for Moscow, for “security” reasons.

Anger at Mr Lukashenko’s government has been fueled in part by the response to the coronavirus.

The president has downplayed the blast, advising citizens to drink vodka and use saunas to fight the disease.

Belarus, which has a population of 9.5 million, has had nearly 70,000 confirmed cases and 600 deaths.




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