President Alexander Lukashenko achieved a sixth election victory. But his reigning challenger, a former English teacher, said she won’t see the results.
Posted on Aug 10, 2020 at 6:38 am ET
Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
A police officer points to a man lying on the ground during clashes with opposition supporters in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 9.
Kiev – Riot police violently suppressed thousands of protesters who flocked to the streets of Belarus’ capital, Minsk, to question the results of Sunday’s hotly contested presidential election.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with iron for 26 years, claimed a landslide victory in the elections that was marred by allegations of election fraud. The Belarusian Central Electoral Commission said preliminary results showed he won 80% of the vote, while its surprising challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, finished second with just 9%. The authorities did not allow independent observers to monitor the vote.
But on Monday Tikhanovskaya took the win. “We do not recognize the election results. We saw real ballots, ”she was quoted as saying by the local media. “We urge those who believe that their voice 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 touring and reopening an agricultural facility, didn’t respond to the request on Monday.
Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, rose from the dark after her husband-to-be, a popular vlogger, was jailed to rally the largest political rallies in Belarus since the fall of the Soviet Union. According to her and independent local media reports that published documents with the numbers, several districts in Minsk showed 70% to 80% of the vote. In a video from a polling station, a member of the electoral commission is seen climbing down a ladder from a window on the second floor and receiving a bag that is believed to be full of ballots.
Early Monday morning, Tikhanovskaya announced that she would neither give in to Lukashenko nor acknowledge the votes.
Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Protesters lock guns in the streets of Minsk.
Many thousands of their supporters flocked to the streets of Minsk and several other cities across the country after the polls closed on Sunday evening. Protesters marched through Minsk with cell phones illuminated in the night before hundreds of armed security guards – many of whom had been brought into the capital earlier in the day – began to disperse them.
Videos and photos shared by Belarusian independent news outlets showed police officers throwing stun grenades and tear gas canisters into the crowd while people chanted, “Long live Belarus!” and “go away!” and “This is our country!”
Stella. Minsk. Execution of demonstrators. Video from colleagues at Radio Liberty @svaboda
10:05 p.m. – 9 August 2020
Police were also seen firing rubber bullets at protesters and using water cannons and anti-riot vehicles to push back the crowd. Officials were seen on the video chasing protesters and beating them with batons before dragging some into vans and dragging them away. In some cases, officers were briefly overrun by groups of demonstrators.
Minsk tonight: the ranks of the riot police with shields, water cannons and stun grenades.
10:05 p.m. – 9 August 2020
In the meantime, authorities managed to restrict internet access and cell phone service and shut down independent news websites, making it difficult for anyone to find and communicate information about the events.
When night fell, the streets of Minsk were covered with blood and tear gas hung in the air. More than 3,000 demonstrators were reportedly arrested and detained by the police. The human rights group Viasna reported that at least one protester died after a brain injury when a police car ran over him. Several others were treated for a variety of wounds inflicted by the police. An Associated Press photographer reportedly arrested and knocked unconscious in the back of a police car.
Siarhei Leskiec / Getty Images
The riot police dispersed the demonstrators.
The Belarusian Interior Ministry reported that a total of 39 law enforcement officers and more than 50 demonstrators had been injured.
Clashes have also been reported in around 20 other cities, including Grodno and Brest in the west of the country. In some smaller towns, riot police reportedly refused to take action against demonstrators. Videos shared online showed one group withdrawing and another dropping their shields. One video shows a protester approaching an officer and hugging him.
Overnight, Tikhanovskaya urged police to immediately stop attacks on protesters and encourage their supporters to stop provocative actions. “I would like to ask the militia and the troops to remember that they are part of the people,” she said. “Please stop the violence.”
Sergei Gapon / Getty Images
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya will hold a press conference on Monday, the day after the presidential elections in Belarus.
Tikhanovskaya was part of a women’s trio of political novices who managed to spark the imagination of Belarusians with a promise of change and three simple hand gestures that have become symbols of hope for people fed up with Lukashenko: ✌️✊❤️. The women did so after several male candidates were banned from the race and Lukashenko Tikhanovskaya allowed registration – something that now appears to be a major political miscalculation.
Veronika Tsepkalo, one of the trios and campaign advisor for Tikhanovskaya, told BuzzFeed News that she believed Lukashenko underestimated a candidate’s potential.
Lukashenko, known as “Europe’s last dictator”, has already won five elections, although only the first was declared free and fair by independent observers in 1994. He was strongly supported by the Belarusians for years, mainly thanks to the economic stability. However, that support appeared to be coming to an end in recent months due to horrific human rights abuses, a stagnating economy, and its failure to properly treat the 9.5 million population coronavirus pandemic.
While Lukashenko plans to move on, Tikhanovskaya chief of staff Maria Kolesnikova said on Monday that her team was ready for a long protest. And the candidate herself said she would do anything to reverse the results.