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Belarusian authorities arrest 6,000 protesters following controversial presidential election



Thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets since Sunday, when opinion polls showed Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, won 80 percent of the vote.

Opposition groups claim that the election was marred by widespread vote-rigging and fraud in order to keep Lukashenko in power, while the independent monitoring group Honest People said that according to his data, opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskay had won. in at least 80 polling stations throughout Belarus. Now many are looking for a recount.

Authorities in the former Soviet republic responded by arresting thousands on the first night of the riots, periodically shutting down Internet access and using what the European Union called a “disproportionate”
; use of force.

At least 50 journalists were also arrested or injured during street protests, the Belarus Press Association said in a statement on Wednesday.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the violence in a statement on Wednesday, arguing that “the use of force during protests should always be extraordinary and a measure of last resort, clearly distinguishing between any violent individuals and peaceful protesters against whom force should not be used “

The European Union and the United States are considering imposing sanctions on Belarus for its response, while autocratic regimes such as Russia and China have voiced support for Lukashenko.

Mr Lukashenko has downplayed allegations of violent violence by his opponents. He said he still enjoys broad support and warned Belarusians that they should not attend unsubstantiated rallies.

But his opponents say otherwise.

Two say they were forced by Belarus because of threats from the government. Tikhanovskay, who stood in search of her husband as an opposition candidate after being jailed on the eve of the vote, left the country earlier this week. Her campaign told CNN on Sunday that nine people linked to the campaign had been arrested, and her decision to leave was partly taken to free her peers.

A representative for Tikhanovskay, Olga Kovalkova, told Belarus’ TUT.BY on Tuesday that Tikhanovskaya “had no choice”, and said part of the opposition candidate’s team was still being held “hostage”.

Tikhanovskay and her children are now in neighboring Lithuania, which has offered to mediate the dispute.

There have been reported protests in dozens of towns and cities, but most of the arrests have taken place in the capital, Minsk, where ring roads and main roads were blocked by demonstrators Monday evening and police placed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Analysts said the level of police violence against protesters was unprecedented.

“They used water cannons, stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas,” Alex Kokcharov, a political risk analyst at Belarus-based IHS Markit, told CNN. “I think the response from the police is to cause some casualties, such as injuries, which will demotivate many people from participating in the protests.”

“Lukashenko enjoys broad support from the country’s elites, but what would” hit “them is the widespread movement of civil disobedience, such as long-term labor strikes in state-owned enterprises and transport networks,” Kokcharov added.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko with his son Nikolai (left) during the Victory Day military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War II, on June 24, 2020 in Moscow.

Prominent Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova, the last of three women to become the country’s main opposition figures, told CNN that she believed the clashes over the disputed election results signaled the fall of her long presidency. Lukashenko.

“He is already lost. He must admit that the people of Belarus do not like him and do not like him to remain President of Belarus,” Kolesnikova said.

Kolesnikova, Tikhanovskaya and a third woman, Veronika Tsepkalo, joined forces to get Lukashenko to the polls as some opposition candidates were also barred from running or jailed. Lukashenko dismissed them as “poor girls” in his annual state address of the union last week and said he would not “leave the country”.

But the trio seemed to enjoy considerable support. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign rallies saw significant turnout even in small Belarusian towns not known for their protest activity. About 63,000 people attended the largest event in Minsk in July – making it the largest demonstration in a decade.

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger and Tara John contributed to this report.


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