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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 
injured.

   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 
1994.

   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 
in Belarus.

   "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, 
Tokayev said.

   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 
rule.

   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 
observers.

   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.

 
 
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