The main challenger to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the August 9 presidential election, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was forced to leave the country a day after the election and is currently in Lithuania, has called on her supporters to "defend our choice," while urging ongoing protests to continue into the weekend.
In a video statement on August 14, Tsikhanouskaya said the majority of voters in the country had cast ballots for her and not Lukashenka, who, according to official poll results, received some 80 percent of the vote.
Tsikhanouskaya, who attracted huge crowds at campaign rallies across the country, was given just under 10 percent.
"We, the backers of changes, are the majority. And that is confirmed by documents, copies of the protocols [from polling stations]. At the places where the votes were counted honestly, my supporters made between 60-70 percent. In Novaya Baravaya (Minsk's outskirts) it was 90 percent. Belarusians will never want to live with the previous authorities. Nobody believes in his [Lukashenka's] victory," Tsikhanouskaya said.
In a separate statement, Tsikhanouskaya said that she was initiating the creation of a “Coordination Council to ensure the transition of power.” She said the council would include civil society representatives, as well as prominent figures and “professionals in their fields.”
The Belarusian Interior Ministry on August 14 said more than 2,000 people who were detained during protests have been released.
The ministry said it was concerned by the problem of overcrowding in detention centers after around 6,700 people were detained in the crackdown.
Late on August 13, the Belarusian leadership released some 1,000 detained protesters after issuing a rare public apology for the use of excessive force against some bystanders in a bid to quell nationwide protests that now pose the biggest challenge to Lukashenka in his 26 years in power.
At least two protesters have died.
Also on August 14, the Central Election Commission officially declared that Lukashenka had won the August 9 election. According to the commission's website, Lukashenka got 80.1 percent of the vote, against Tsikhanouskaya's 10.1 percent.
During a televised meeting with government officials on August 14, Lukashenka urged Belarusians not to attend protests, claiming that the opposition wanted “to use you and your children as cannon fodder.”
Ongoing nationwide protests continued as European Union foreign ministers at an emergency meeting on July 14 discussed drawing up proposals for new sanctions on Belarus.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, the bloc's chief executive, tweeted: "We need additional sanctions against those who violated democratic values or abused human rights in Belarus. I am confident today's EU Foreign Ministers' discussion will demonstrate our strong support for the rights of the people in Belarus to fundamental freedoms and democracy."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded the unconditional and immediate release of detained demonstrators, her spokesman said.
The official BelTA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey as saying on August 14 that Belarus was ready for "constructive and objective dialogue" with its foreign partners on events related to the presidential election and its aftermath.
In her YouTube statement, Tsikhanouskaya accused the authorities of "turning peaceful demonstrations into a bloody massacre."
"It is necessary to stop the violence on the streets of Belarusian cities. I call on the authorities to stop it and start a dialogue. I ask the mayors of all cities to organize peaceful mass gatherings in every city on August 15 and 16," Tsikhanouskaya said.
Tsikhanouskaya called on Belarusians to prove that the majority of them had voted for her, saying that a special link will be added to her website to register those who supported her during the poll.
The 37-year-old thanked her supporters, her campaign team, striking workers, and police officers who refused to follow their supervisors' command to attack protesters.