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 protester in Minsk. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty Images
Riot police detain a protester in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images
Riot police disperse protesters in Minsk. Photo: Siarhei/AFP via Getty Images
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. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images
Riot police block an area after polls closed in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images
Opposition supporters in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images

Go deeper

Oct 23, 2020 - World

Thousands rally to protest Poland's near-total abortion ban

Protesters shout slogans against police lines around the deputy prime minister's house. Photo: Wojtek Radwanski / Getty Images

Thousands of protesters turned out on Friday in cities across Poland following a Thursday court ruling banning almost all abortions, the BBC reports.

Why it matters: Opinion polls show a "clear majority" against further restricting abortions in the country, per BBC. Poland, a Roman Catholic country, was already said to have one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.

In photos: Washington state crews destroy first murder hornets nest in U.S.

Washington State Department of Agriculture workers, illuminated by red lamps, vacuum a nest of Asian giant hornets from a tree in Blaine, Washington, on Saturday. Photo: Elaine Thompson/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Heavily protected crews on Saturday dismantled the first Asian giant hornet nest found in the U.S., the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) confirmed in a statement declaring: "Got 'em."

The big picture: The invasive species commonly referred to as the "murder hornet," typically doesn't harm humans unless provoked, though it has been known to kill people in Japan. The insect poses a major threat to local honeybee populations. But the WSDA said in a statement that the nest removal "appears to have been successful."

Updated 14 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Ex-FDA chief: Pence campaigning after COVID exposure puts others at risk — Mark Meadows: "We are not going to control the pandemic"
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week — U.S. reports over 80,000 new cases for second consecutive day.
  3. World: Australian city Melbourne to exit one of world's longest lockdowns — In photos: Coronavirus restrictions grow across Europe
  4. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine after possible COVID-19 exposure
  5. Nonprofit: Rockefeller Foundation commits $1 billion for COVID-19 recovery

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!