Updated Aug 10, 2020 - World

Protests erupt in Belarus after "Europe's last dictator" claims election win

Protesters and riot police clash during a protest against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's claim of a landslide victory on August 9, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus.
Protesters and riot police clash in Minsk, Belarus, on Sunday during a demonstration against President Alexander Lukashenko's claim of a landslide victory. Photo: Misha Friedman/Getty Images)

Riot police clashed with protesters in Belarus overnight after a government exit poll predicted Sunday President Aleksander Lukashenko, an authoritarian who has ruled the Eastern European country since 1994, had overwhelmingly defeated a pro-democracy opposition candidate.

The latest: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the election as "not free and fair" on Monday and urged the Belarusian government to "refrain from use of force" against protesters who have taken to the streets. At least one person has died in the protests, while hundreds have been injured and thousands arrested.

Why it matters: It's a precarious moment for the former Soviet republic, where decades of repression and a complete disregard for the coronavirus pandemic threaten to topple "Europe's last dictator." Rights groups said at least one protester was killed and dozens more wounded in a "police crackdown," per AP.

The state of play: Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a teacher who replaced her husband on the ticket when he was arrested for launching his campaign, is claiming victory based on results from 20 polling stations, where a spokesman told the Globe and Mail her vote share was "two, three, four times" that of Lukashenko.

  • The government exit poll that triggered Sunday's protests, which had been ongoing at a smaller scale for weeks, showed Lukashenko with 79.7% of the vote and Tikhanovskaya with 6.8%.
  • Tikhanovskaya had not been seen or heard from for hours on Monday after filing a complaint at the Central Election Commission. Her team later issued a short and mysterious statement, saying: "Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has made contact. She’s fine."

In the meantime, thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets in cities all over the country to protest the allegedly rigged results.

  • They've been met in many instances with riot police and other security forces, who have been documented on social media deploying tear gas and violently attacking protesters.
  • Convoys of military personnel were filmed moving into the capital of Minsk, where main roads into the city have been blocked off. The internet was also reported to have been shut down late Sunday.

What they're saying: "As neighbors of Belarus, we call on Belarusian authorities to fully recognize and uphold basic democratic standards," the presidents of Poland and Lithuania said in a joint statement.

  • "We urge to refrain from violence and call for respect of fundamental freedoms, human and citizen rights including the rights of national minorities and freedom of speech."
  • "We are convinced that closer cooperation with the European Union is in the interest of Belarus, we want the doors for this cooperation to remain open and stand ready to continue to provide further support to Belarus in deepening its relations with the united European family."

European Council President Charles Michel tweeted: "Violence against protesters is not the answer #Belarus. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, basic human rights must be upheld."

  • European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen called on Belarusian authorities to ensure an accurate vote count and said the EU is "ready to support the process of de-escalation and dialogue that would lead to democratisation and a closer, more intense EU-Belarus Partnership."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing Monday that the Trump administration is "deeply concerned" about the Belarus election and urged the government to "respect the right to peaceably assemble and refrain from the use of force."

This story is developing. Please check back for updates

On the ground
 Law enforcement officers detain a man participating in a protest against the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
Law enforcement officers detain a protester in Minsk. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty Images
 Riot police detain a person participating in a protest following the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
Riot police detain a protester in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images
 Riot police disperse protesters after polls closed in the presidential election, in Minsk on August 9
Riot police disperse protesters in Minsk. Photo: Siarhei/AFP via Getty Images
A man talks to a riot police officer during a protest against the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
A man talks to a riot police officer during the protest in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images
A man lies on the ground in front of riot police in Minsk.
A man lies on the ground in front of riot police in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images
Riot police block an area after polls closed in Minsk
Riot police block an area after polls closed in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters in belarus
Opposition supporters in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images
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