Belarus: election protesters clash with riot police
President Alexander Lukashenko has won a sixth electoral victory. But her outgoing challenger, a former English teacher, said she would not recognize the results.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who ruled Belarus with an iron for 26 years, won a landslide election victory, which was marred by accusations of vote rigging. Belarus’ Central Election Commission said preliminary results showed he won 80 percent of the vote while his surprise challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya finished second with just 9 percent. The authorities did not allow any independent observers to monitor the vote.
But on Monday, Tikhanovskaya took the victory for herself. “We don’t recognize the election results. We saw real ballots, ”she was cited by local media as saying. “We urge those who believe their vote has been stolen not to remain silent.”
She also said she was ready to sit down with Lukashenko to discuss the situation. But Lukashenko, who was busy visit an agricultural facility and get back to business, did not respond to demand on Monday.
Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, has risen from obscurity after the imprisonment of her future husband, a popular vlogger, to bring together the biggest political rallies in Belarus since the fall of the Soviet Union. According to her and according to reports from local independent media which published documents with the counts, several constituencies in Minsk showed her with 70% to 80% of the vote. In a video from a polling station, a member of the electoral commission is seen go down a ladder from a second story window and receive a bag presumably full of ballots.
Early Monday morning, Tikhanovskaya announced that she would not cede to Lukashenko or recognize the votes.
Several thousand of his supporters poured into the streets of Minsk and several other cities across the country after polling stations closed on Sunday evening. Protesters marched through Minsk with their cellphones lit up against the night sky in front of hundreds of armed security forces – many of whom had been bused into the capital earlier in the day – began to disperse them.
Videos and photographs shared by independent Belarusian news outlets showed police officers stun grenades and tear gas canisters in the crowd as people chanted “Long live Belarus!” and “Go away!” and “This is our country!”
Police were also seen shooting rubber bullets demonstrators and deployment water cannons and anti-riot vehicles to repel the crowds. Officers were seen in video chasing protesters and clubbing them with batons before dragging them into vans and transporting them. In some cases, officers were briefly invaded by groups of demonstrators.
As the night turned to early morning, the streets of Minsk were covered with some blood, and tear gas suspended in the air. Reports says more than 3000 demonstrators had been detained by police and incarcerated. The human rights group Viasna reported that at least one protester has died after suffering brain damage a police truck knocked him over. Several others were being treated for various injuries inflicted by the police. An Associated Press photographer was would have detained and beaten unconscious in the back of a police van.
Belarusian Ministry of Interior reported that 39 law enforcement officers and more than 50 demonstrators were injured in all.
Clashes were also reported in around 20 other towns, including Grodno and Brest in the west of the country. But in some of the smaller towns, riot police have reportedly refused to crack down on protesters. Videos shared online showed one group retreating and another bringing down their shields. A protester is seen in a video approaching an officer and hugging him.
Overnight, Tikhanovskaya called on the police to immediately end the attacks on protesters and on his supporters to cease all provocative actions. “I want to ask the militiamen and soldiers to remember that they are part of the people,” she said. “Please stop the violence.”
Tikhanovskaya was part of a all-female threesome political novices who managed to capture the imagination of Belarusians with a promise of change and three simple hand gestures that have become symbols of hope for Lukashenko weary people: ✌️✊❤️. The women did so after several male candidates were barred from running and Lukashenko allowed Tikhanovskaya to register – which now appears to have been a serious political miscalculation.
Veronika Tsepkalo, one of the trios and campaign advisor for Tikhanovskaya, told BuzzFeed News that she believes Lukashenko is underestimating the potential of a female candidate.
Known as “Europe’s last dictator,” Lukashenko has won five previous elections, though only the first in 1994 was deemed free and fair by independent observers. It has enjoyed strong support from Belarusians for years, mainly through economic stability. But that support appears to have ended in recent months due to serious human rights violations, a stagnant economy and its inability to properly deal with the situation. coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated the population of 9.5 million.
As Lukashenko seeks to move on, Tikhanovskaya Chief of Staff Maria Kolesnikova said on Monday their team was ready for a long protest. And the candidate herself said she would do everything possible to reverse the results.