Police in Belarus crack down on mass protests against authoritarian Lukashenko
MINSK (BELARUS) – Police used water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas to crack down on protesters in the Belarus capital of Minsk on Sunday. The protests erupted after incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko was set to claim another victory in the election.
Thousands of protesters thronged the streets, clapping and shouting “victory” while waving flags and sounding car horns expressing support for the opposition. Some people erected barricades with garbage cans.
Video footage on social media showed police in riot gear clashing with protesters.
According to witnesses, a police vehicle hit protesters. But there were no reports of any injuries.
Lukashenko, who was a collective farm manager during the Soviet-era, has been in power since 1994. He is battling rising anger over the manner in which he handled the pandemic crisis and human rights violations.
According to the state-approved exit polls, Lukashenko has bagged 79% votes while his main rival Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who shot into fame a few weeks ago by leading rallies against him, got 6.8%.
She joined the fray after her husband, who is an anti-government blogger and a potential candidate, was put behind the bars.
“I’d like to ask the police and troops to remember that they are part of the people. I ask my voters to prevent provocations,” she told the media, adding, “Please stop the violence.”
According to foreign observers, polls have never been free and fair in the country since 1995.
If the president deals with protesters harshly, it could spoil his bid to boost ties with West. This comes in the wake of frayed relations with long-time ally Russia, which has been trying to bring the country closer to Moscow through economic and political ties.
On Sunday, when Tikhanouskaya arrived at a polling station, hundreds rallied expressing support and chanting her name. Her rallies have witnessed the largest crowds in the country ever since the fall of the USSR in 1991.
Ahead of the presidential election, as many as 1,300 people were detained, according to human rights observers and members of Tikhanouskaya’s campaign team.
After casting his ballot, Lukashenko said he did not impose repressive measures such as “fake news or far-fetched accusations”, adding that he did not consider Tikhanouskaya as a threat.
“They are not worth enough to carry out any repression against them,” he said.
(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field