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EU rejects Belarus' disputed presidential election result as Lukashenko orders clampdown

Protesters have flooded the streets of Belarusian cities since the 9 August election.

Belarusian opposition supporters light phones lights and wave an old Belarusian national flags during a protest rally in front of the government building at Independent Square in Minsk, Belarus
Belarusian opposition supporters light phones lights and wave an old Belarusian national flags during a protest rally in front of the government building at Independent Square in Minsk, Belarus
Image: AP/PA Images

THE EUROPEAN UNION has rejected the result of Belarus’s disputed presidential election as strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko ordered his security forces to prevent any further unrest.

Following an emergency video conference, European Council chief Charles Michel said the EU would soon levy sanctions against a “substantial number” of people responsible for vote rigging and the violent suppression of protests in the ex-Soviet country.

Protesters have flooded the streets of Belarusian cities since the 9 August election, waving the red-and-white flags of the opposition and calling on Lukashenko to step down after he claimed a sixth term with 80% of the ballot.

Today, protesters marched through central Minsk in the rain and gathered on Independence Square, chanting calls for Lukashenko to “Leave!”. They also called for major rallies on Sunday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that the EU rejects the results of the vote, which was “neither free nor fair”.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after claiming victory in the vote, earlier today urged EU leaders not to recognise the “fraudulent” ballot.

“Lukashenko has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” she said in the video appeal.

Western leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel this week called on Lukashenko’s close ally Russia to foster talks between authorities and the opposition.

belgium-eu-belarus European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a media conference following an EU summit in video conference format Source: Olivier Hoslet via PA Images

‘No more riots’: Lukashenko 

The Kremlin today described foreign interference in Belarus as “unacceptable” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned what he said were attempts from abroad to take advantage of unrest in Belarus.

“No one is making a secret of the fact that this is about geopolitics, the fight for the post-Soviet space,” he said in a televised interview.

Yet Minsk’s ties with Moscow have cooled in recent years after Lukashenko resisted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to integrate the two countries. Ahead of the vote, he accused the Kremlin of dispatching mercenaries to Minsk to stir unrest with the opposition.

Europe’s longest-serving leader, Lukashenko has resisted calls to resign or hold new elections and has accused the opposition of attempts to “seize power”. 

Today, he named a new cabinet, keeping key ministers in place including the Interior Minister Yury Karayev, who is responsible for police.

belarus-protests Belarusian opposition supporters gather for a protest rally in front of the government building at Independent Square in Minsk, Belarus Source: Dmitri Lovetsky via PA Images

During a meeting of his security council, Lukashenko ordered his government to prevent further unrest and shore up protections along the country’s borders.

“There should be no more riots in Minsk. People are tired; people demand peace and quiet,” Lukashenko told officials.

He said the protective measures on the borders were necessary to stop “militants, weapons, ammunition and money from other countries from entering Belarus to finance the riots”.

Tikhanovskaya, a trained English teacher who said she never planned to enter politics, contested the vote after her husband was jailed and barred from running against Lukashenko.

Shot in the head

She has vowed to hold new elections and a Coordination Council which her allies created to oversee the transfer of power convened today.

It called for new elections to be held “according to international standards” and an “immediate start of talks” with the authorities. 

“If Belarus can solve the crisis without external intervention, that will be the best option,” said Pavel Latushko, a former foreign minister who is on the council’s presidium.

Tikhanovskaya’s campaign partner Maria Kolesnikova said they hoped for “friendly relations with all our neighbours, with EU countries and with Russia”.

belarus-protests Police block a sidewalk area next to Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus in Minsk, Belarus Source: Dmitri Lovetsky via PA Images

Nobel Prize-winning author and outspoken Lukashenko critic Svetlana Alexievich is also on the presidium.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz met another of Tikhanovskaya’s campaign partners, Veronika Tsepkalo, in Warsaw and promised support.

Lukashenko’s claim of victory sparked the largest demonstrations in Belarus since it gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

More than 100,000 demonstrators flooded the streets of the capital Minsk last weekend as frustration reached a fever pitch.

A police crackdown on peaceful protesters in the days after the vote saw nearly 7,000 demonstrators detained and sparked allegations of abuse and torture at the hands of security services.

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The health ministry today confirmed the death of a 43-year-old man who was shot in the head during protests in the city of Brest. 

Investigators said they were looking into the actions of the police who said they shot the man in self-defence.

Two other people are confirmed to have died in post-election unrest.

Pressure not to strike 

Lukashenko handed out awards to his security services for “impeccable service” after rights groups and Western leaders denounced police violence.

Traditionally loyal factory workers at state-run enterprises answered the opposition’s calls to strike in an unprecedented display of anger towards the Belarusian leader. 

But the authorities appear to be clamping down today, with police arresting protesters at a demonstration outside the Minsk Tractor Works.

Police today also blocked the entrance to the state Janka Kupala Theatre in Minsk after staff resigned en masse in protest at the sacking of its general director, Latushko, who now sits on Tikhanovskaya’s coordination council. 

© AFP 2020

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