Police, protesters clash after Belarus presidential vote

WION Web Team Minsk, Belarus Aug 10, 2020, 07.47 AM(IST)

Protests swell in Belarus Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

State-approved exit polls showed him winning 79.7% of the vote while his main opponent Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who emerged from obscurity a few weeks ago to lead rallies against him, received 6.8%.

Belarus police fired water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades in a crackdown on protests that erupted on Sunday as President Alexander Lukashenko was set to claim another election win.

State-approved exit polls showed him winning 79.7% of the vote while his main opponent Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who emerged from obscurity a few weeks ago to lead rallies against him, received 6.8%.

To this end, thousands of people took to the streets of Minsk and other cities while protesters clapped, shouted "victory", waved flags and honked car horns in solidarity with the opposition. Some built barricades with garbage cans. Police detained and clashed with protesters.

A police prisoner transport van hit a crowd of people in Minsk.

Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995.

A harsh response to new protests could hurt Lukashenko's attempts to mend fences with the West amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.

Tikhanouskaya's rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and on Sunday she arrived at a polling station with hundreds of supporters chanting her name.

Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people were detained in the crackdown ahead of the election, including independent election observers and members of Tikhanouskaya's campaign team.

After casting his vote, Lukashenko denied imposing repressive measures as "fake news or far-fetched accusations" and said he did not regard Tikhanouskaya`s camp as a threat.

Long queues of voters formed outside some polling stations in Minsk and also outside the Belarusian embassies in Moscow and Kyiv for people casting their ballot abroad.

Portraying himself as a guarantor of stability but criticised by the West as dictatorial, Lukashenko says the opposition protesters are in cahoots with foreign backers to destabilise the country.

Lukashenko has struggled to raise incomes and living standards in recent years. He also faced anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which he dismissed as a "psychosis" while suggesting drinking vodka and playing ice hockey as remedies.

A former Soviet collective farm manager, the authoritarian Lukashenko has ruled the country since 1994 but has battled a wave of anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and his human rights record.

Tikhanouskaya entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.