Anger as Belarus Pres. Gets 6th Term 08/10 06:19
MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Election officials in Belarus said Monday that
President Alexander Lukashenko has won his sixth consecutive term with over 80%
of the vote after facing his strongest challenge in 26 years and protests over
his cavalier brushoff of the coronavirus, political repression and the
country's deteriorating economy.
Thousands of people took to the streets in a number of Belarusian cities and
towns on Sunday night, protesting the early count that indicated Lukashenko's
landslide victory. Opposition supporters said they believe the election results
were rigged and planned to gather in Minsk for more protests on Monday evening.
"We don't recognize these results," opposition candidate Sviatlana
Tsikhanouskaya, 37, said Monday. The Central Election Commission of Belarus
gave the former teacher and political novice 9.9% of the vote to the
65-year-old incumbent's 80.23%. Tsikhanouskaya said her team was conducting its
own ballot count.
"According to the data we receive from precincts, we won, and this
corresponds with what we saw at polling stations," she said. "People stood in
lines at polling stations in order to vote for Tsikhanouskaya. I believe my own
eyes rather than the data of the Central Election Commission."
Lukashenko called the election "a festive occasion" and accused the
opposition of trying to ruin it.
"We won't allow (them) to tear the country apart," he said.
The protesters expressing anger over the outcome of Sunday's election faced
rows of riot police who moved quickly to disperse them, firing flash-bang
grenades and beating the demonstrators with truncheons. Human rights groups
said one person was killed - which the authorities denied - and dozens were
According to the Viasna human rights group, more than 200 protesters were
detained. The crackdown followed a tense campaign that saw massive rallies
against Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist since
The Interior Ministry said Monday no one was killed during the protests and
called reports about a fatality "an absolute fake." According to officials, 89
people were injured during the protests, including 39 law enforcement officers,
and some 3,000 people were detained.
The Investigative Committee of Belarus opened a criminal probe Monday into
mass riots and violence toward police officers.
European officials urged Belarusian authorities to adhere to standards of
democracy and respect the people's civil rights on Sunday.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told the BNS news agency on
Monday that "it's difficult to call this election transparent, democratic and
free, regrettably." German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters
in Berlin on Monday that reports of systematic election irregularities were
credible and the German government doubted the result announced by authorities
"It's obvious that the minimum standards for democratic elections weren't
abided by in the presidential election." Seibert said, adding that the European
Union would now discuss an appropriate joint response.
Poland's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Monday saying that "the harsh
reaction of the law enforcement forces, the use of force against peaceful
protesters, and arbitrary arrests are unacceptable."
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called on European Union's leaders
to convene an extraordinary summit to discuss Belarus, saying that the
27-member bloc should support the democratic aspirations of people in Belarus.
Several world leaders, in the meantime, congratulated Lukashenko on his win.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping was the first among them, saying that "Belarus will
certainly achieve new brilliant successes in state-building." He was followed
by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart
Tokayev, and the leader of Azerbaijan, Ilkham Aliyev.
The election results "indicate the popular support" for Lukashenko's rule,
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Facebook post Monday it
was "obvious that not everyone in the country agrees with the announced
preliminary election results. And, as we know, any legitimacy arises solely
from public trust." He urged the government of Belarus to refrain from violence
and called for dialogue with the opposition.
Two prominent opposition challengers were denied places on the ballot, but
Tsikhanouskaya, the wife of a jailed opposition blogger, managed to unite
opposition groups and draw tens of thousands to her campaign rallies, tapping
growing anger over a stagnant economy and fatigue with Lukashenko's autocratic
Lukashenko was defiant as he voted earlier in the day, warning that the
opposition will meet a tough response.
"If you provoke, you will get the same answer," he said. "Do you want to try
to overthrow the government, break something, wound, offend, and expect me or
someone to kneel in front of you and kiss them and the sand onto which you
wandered? This will not happen."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose assessments
of elections are widely regarded as authoritative, was not invited to send
Tsikhanouskaya had crisscrossed the country, tapping into public frustration
with a worsening economy and Lukashenko's swaggering response to the pandemic.
Belarus, a country of 9.5 million people, has reported more than 68,500
coronavirus cases and 580 deaths but critics have accused authorities of
manipulating the figures to downplay the death toll.
Belarus has sustained a severe economic blow after its leading exports
customer, Russia, went into a pandemic-induced recession and other foreign
markets shrank. Before the coronavirus, the country's state-controlled economy
already had been stalled for years, stoking public frustration.
Lukashenko has dismissed the virus as "psychosis" and declined to apply
measures to stop its spread, saying a lockdown would have doomed the already
weak economy. He announced last month that he had been infected but had no
symptoms and recovered quickly, allegedly thanks to playing sports.