Poland calls for extraordinary EU summit following tainted Belarus election

Policemen advance along a street during a protest after polling stations closed at the presidential elections in Minsk, Belarus, 09 August 2020. [Yauhen Yershak/EPA/EFE]

Poland on Monday (10 August) called for an emergency European Union summit on the situation in Belarus after clashes in the night in Minsk following a disputed presidential election.

“The authorities have used force against their citizens, who are demanding change in the country. We must support the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a statement.

EU Council President Charles Michel in the meantime condemned police violence that followed the election, while the authorities in Minsk declared a landslide election victory for long-serving leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Prominent rights group Viasna said one man was killed, dozens wounded and more than 300 arrested during the police crackdown overnight Sunday to Monday.

Belarus police crackdown on mass protests against strongman president after election

Belarus police fired water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades in a crackdown on protests that erupted on Sunday (9 August) as President Alexander Lukashenko was set to claim another election win in the face of the biggest challenge in years to his grip on power.

The protests erupted after an exit poll showed Lukashenko soundly beating main opposition challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — a result confirmed by election officials on Monday.

Rising star shakes up Belarus strongman's re-election bid

Belarus holds presidential polls on Sunday (9 August) with a novice opposition candidate posing the greatest challenge in years to long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Central Election Commission chief Lidia Yermoshina announced Lukashenko had won 80.23% according to preliminary results, handing him a sixth term.

Tikhanovskaya won 9.9%, while three other candidates each won less than two percent.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping both quickly congratulated Lukashenko, but Poland called for an emergency European Union summit on the clashes.

“The authorities have used force against their citizens, who are demanding change in the country. We must support the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a statement.

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother and political novice, galvanised the opposition during the election campaign, attracting tens of thousands of supporters to the ex-Soviet country’s biggest demonstrations in years.

Thousands took to the streets of Minsk and other cities on Sunday night to denounce the result, sparking clashes with police that Viasna said led to more than 300 arrests.

Shocking images released by pro-opposition media and posted online showed police firing stun grenades and rubber bullets into the crowds and a police van ramming into the demonstration and running down a protester.

Young protesters were seen covered in blood, lying immobile on the ground or being dragged away by police.

‘Mockery of our people’

Viasna said one protester had died after suffering a “traumatic head injury… as a result of being run over by a police vehicle”.

It said dozens of protesters were injured including at least 10 who had to be taken to hospitals.

An interior ministry spokeswoman denied there had been any deaths.

The Belarusian Investigative Committee launched a criminal probe on charges of organising and participating in “mass unrest” — punishable by jail terms of eight to 15 years.

Alexander, a 35-year-old protester in Minsk, accused Lukashenko of blatantly rigging the vote.

“I came out to protest because the country needs a change in power,” he told AFP. “This is a crime, a mockery of our people.”

In a news conference after polls closed Tikhanovskaya said she did not trust the results.

“I believe my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us,” she said. “We have already won, because we have overcome our fear, our apathy and our indifference.”

She also called on members of law enforcement to stop using force.

Her ally, Maria Kolesnikova, said the government was “incapable of running the country” and an “unprecedented” political crisis was setting in.

Tikhanovskaya decided to run for president after the authorities jailed her husband, popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, and barred him from running.

On Sunday afternoon, huge queues formed outside polling stations in Minsk and other cities, after Tikhanovskaya urged her supporters to vote late to give authorities less chance to falsify the election.

Many wore white bracelets that have become a symbol of the opposition.

Tikhanovskaya said that if she won she would release political prisoners and call fresh elections to include the entire opposition.

Lukashenko has sought to boost his support by warning of outside threats and raising the spectre of violent mobs.

Authorities have detained 33 Russians, describing them as mercenaries sent to destabilise the vote.

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