In a country where crackdowns on riots are routine, Belarusian police and protesters clashed in the capital Minsk and the city of Brest on Sunday night over growing dissatisfaction with the authoritarian rule of the country’s longtime leader, who recently demanded a sixth term.
Sunday’s vote in the former Soviet Union marked President Alexander Lukashenko, who has held control of Belarus since 1994, against four others. The campaign has generated the largest opposition protests in the country in years. Opposition supporters say they suspect election officials will manipulate the results of Sunday’s vote to give 65-year-old Lukashenko a sixth term.
The head of the Central Election Commission, Lidia Yermoshina, said early Monday that partial results from some regions showed Lukashenko with an overwhelming advantage, receiving more than 90% of the vote in some districts.
Lukashenko himself was opposed as he voted earlier Sunday.
“If you provoke, you will get the same answer,” he said. “Do you want to try to overthrow the government, to overthrow something, to injure, to offend and to wait for me or someone to kneel before you and kiss them and the sand on which you wandered? This will not happen.”
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Belarusians are tired of the country’s deteriorating economy, as well as the president’s caviar dismissal from the coronavirus pandemic.
The presence of police in Minsk was heavy throughout the day and in the evening police set up checkpoints on the outskirts of the city to check residence permits, apparently worried that the protesters would come from other cities.
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About 1,000 protesters gathered near the obelisk to honor Minsk as a “hero city” of World War II, where police clashed with them, beating some with trucks and later using fire grenades to try to disperse them. those. Protesters later tried to build barricades with garbage containers.
Protests also erupted in the major cities of Brest, Gomel, Grodno and Vitebsk, and police fired tear gas at demonstrators in Brest, according to news reports.
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There was no official information on the number of arrests or people injured, but Ales Bilyatsky from the human rights group Viasna told the Associated Press that he believed there were several hundred.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.