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Protester Dies In Minsk As Clashes Over Election Go Into Second Night


Vehicles with riot police officers during a protest against the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
Vehicles with riot police officers during a protest against the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.

MINSK -- A Belarus protester has died in Minsk as thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against official election results that say incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka won in a landslide.

The protester died after an unidentified explosive device blew up in his hand while he tried to throw it at the police, the Interior Ministry said, according to RFE/RL’s Belarus Service. The incident occurred during a confrontation with the riot police, who had arrived to unblock a square in the Belarusian capital.

There were reports that demonstrators were being fired upon when the man died. RFE/RL’s Belarus Service said several thousand people were in the area and some have attempted to build barricades.

Police reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets earlier and detained protesters as demonstrations against the result of the August 9 presidential election prompted a second day of unrest in Minsk and elsewhere in the country and Washington expressed concern over the election and the crackdown.

Dozens of demonstrators were reportedly detained in Minsk on August 10 as they assembled in the city center in a resumption of protests against the election.

The renewed demonstrations followed violent clashes between protesters and police the night before.

On August 9, some 1,000 people were detained in Minsk, and about 3,000 nationwide, after demonstrators took to the streets to protest what they called a rigged election after an exit poll showed Lukashenka winning with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Supporters of leading opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who had less than 10 percent of the vote according to preliminary official results announced by the Central Election Commission (TsVK), had announced that they would stage a mass demonstration against the official tally on August 10.

The opposition in Belarus also has called for a nationwide protest strike starting at noon local time on August 11.

In its first comment since the election, the White House said it was "deeply concerned by the Belarus presidential election...and we urge the Belarusian government to respect the right to peaceably assemble and to refrain from the use of force."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that sentiment in a separate statement while urging the Lukashenka government to "respect the rights of all Belarusians."

"We urge the Belarusian government to respect the rights of all Belarusians to participate in peaceful assembly, refrain from use of force, and release those wrongfully detained. We strongly condemn ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters, as well as the use of Internet shutdowns to hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations," Pompeo said.

Britain earlier called on Belarus to refrain from further violence against protesters following what it called the "seriously flawed" vote, while France has urged security forces to exhibit "the greatest restraint."

Tsikhanouskaya -- who has rejected the results giving Lukashenka his sixth term in office and says the vote was rigged -- was not planning on taking part in the demonstrations "to avoid provocations," according to her campaign team.

Tsikhanouskaya, who said in Minsk on August 10 that "I consider myself the winner in the presidential election," explained that her opinion was based on what she called "real protocols" collected at the majority of polling stations which, according to her, prove that she won.

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Earlier in the day, the Interior Ministry denied reports by a human rights group that at least one demonstrator was killed in the midst of overnight clashes in Minsk as police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

The Vyasna Human Rights Center in Minsk said the young male protester died from a traumatic head injury after he was hit by a police vehicle and medics were unable to save him. Vyasna did not identify the man that it said had died. But it said there were also dozens of protesters injured in clashes with police.

Vyasna activist Valyantsin Stefanovich blamed the alleged death on the actions of the Interior Ministry and the Security Council.

When asked by RFE/RL to comment on Vyasna's report, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Volha Chamadanava said, "We do not have any fatal casualties."

Meanwhile, the opposition Nexta-Live Telegram channel in Belarus erroneously reported that a protester named Yauhen Zaichkin had been killed in a confrontation with police overnight. Nexta-Live did not attribute its report and did not mention Vyasna.

But media in Russia later linked the two reports together with a photograph of Zaichkin -- unconscious on the ground and surrounded by police -- suggesting Zaichkin might have been the individual Vyasna was referring to.

That photograph went viral after the Russia reports were recirculated by other media in Ukraine and Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya noted on August 10 that there were conflicting reports about the death of a protester overnight. She said that if a protester had been killed, it would mark "the beginning of the end" for Lukashenka's government.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service tracked down Zaichkin on August 10. He said that he survived a severe beating by police in circumstances different from the situation Vsayna had described.

Zaichkin said he'd lost consciousness from the beating while he was being transported in a police vehicle. He said the photograph was taken after police removed him from the vehicle to await an ambulance.

In later remarks to journalists on August 10, Chamadanava described Vyasna's report about a man's death as "fake."

"In all, about 3,000 people were detained across the country, including about 1,000 people detained in Minsk," Chamadanava said. "More than 50 civilians and 39 law enforcement officers were injured during the clashes, some of whom are currently in hospitals."

"Some of the people brought to medical institutions across the country were under the influence of alcohol," she said. "It is necessary to stress that no combat weapons were used against the offenders."

Protesters Clash With Police In Belarus After Lukashenka Declared Winner
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Meanwhile, the head of the Belarusian Investigative Committee, Ivan Naskevich, said on August 10 that criminal cases have been launched into "mass disorders" and "attacks on law enforcement."

For his part, Lukashenka on August 10 described the protesters as "sheep" who are led by foreign countries by telephone.

"There were phone calls from Poland, Great Britain, and the Czech Republic, to manage our, sorry for my language, sheep," Lukashenka said during a meeting with the chairman of the executive committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Sergei Lebedev.

"They do not understand what they are doing and started being managed by others," Lukashenka said, vowing that he "will not allow anyone to tear our country apart."

TsVK Chairwoman Lidzia Yarmoshyna said on August 10 that preliminary official results showed Lukashenka won more than 80 percent of the vote.

Yarmoshyna said Tsikhanouskaya received 9.9 percent of the vote, while three other opposition candidates each received less that 2 percent of the vote.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on August 10 condemned the violence in Belarus, calling on the Belarusian government to "accurately" count and publish the poll's results.

The European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, and European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi also condemned the violence.

In an August 10 statement, they called on the Belarusian government to properly count the votes.

"Following their unprecedented mobilization for free elections and democracy, the Belarusian people now expect their votes to be counted accurately," the statement said. "It is essential that the Central Election Commission publishes the results reflecting the choice of the Belarusian people."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's office said Putin on August 10 sent a telegram to Lukashenka to congratulate him on winning reelection.

"I hope that your state activities will contribute to the further development of mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian relations in all areas, deepening cooperation within the Union State, building up integration processes through the Eurasian Economic Union and the [Commonwealth of Independent States], as well as military and political ties in the Collective Security Treaty Organization," Putin's office quoted the telegram as saying.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev's office said he also sent Lukashenka a congratulatory telegram on August 10.

"The results of the election held in a complicated political setting demonstrate public support for your strategic course towards stronger sovereignty and the independence of Belarus," Toqaev's website quoted his telegram as saying.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Chinese President Xi Jingpin have also sent congratulatory telegrams to Lukashenka.

'What Has Happened Is Awful'

Tsikhanouskaya, who drew tens of thousands of people to her rallies during the campaign, refuses to recognize the preliminary official results announced by the TsVK on August 10, according to her spokeswoman, Hanna Krasulina.

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In an appeal read live over the phone on Current Time by her associate, Maryya Kalesnikava, Tsikhanouskaya called on both the security forces and the Belarusian citizens to refrain from violence.

"I ask everyone who is now making decisions, and above all the commanders of special forces: Do not use force against civilians," she said. Current Time is the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

"I ask the police and the troops to remember that they are part of the people. Once again, I ask the voters: no provocation, no need to give a reason to use violence against you. Please stop the violence. First and foremost, officers, I know you can do this."

"What has happened is awful," Tsikhanouskaya told a news conference from her headquarters. "I believe my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us."

Internet freedom monitor NetBlocks reported Internet connectivity has been disrupted across the country since early on August 9.

The disruption was continuing to make it difficult for journalists and election monitors to do their work. It also has made it difficult for Belarusians within the country to access independent reports on the Internet or via social media.

However, Lukashenka claimed on August 10 that the Internet was "being locked in the country from abroad in order to incur displeasure among the population."

The election came after a campaign marked by the arrest of more than 1,000 opposition supporters, the barring of several potential challengers, claims of a Russian plot to sow instability, and the rise of the unheralded 37-year-old Tsikhanouskaya.

Lukashenka vowed after casting his vote in Minsk on August 9 that neither he nor the government will allow Belarus to slip into "chaos" or "civil war."

With reporting by Current Time, RFE/RL's Belarus Service, BelTA, Reuters, AP, and AFP
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