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Belarusian Protesters Defy Lukashenka As EU Rejects Election Result


Hundreds took part in the MInsk rally on the 11th day of protests on August 19.
Hundreds took part in the MInsk rally on the 11th day of protests on August 19.

Hundreds of Belarusian protesters gathered in Minsk on August 19 in defiance of a new push by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to clear the streets of the capital on the 11th day of rallies against his rule as the European Union refused to recognize the reelection of the longtime authoritarian president and said it will soon impose sanctions on his government.

With thousands taking to the streets daily since the August 9 vote and strikes crippling many state enterprises, the longtime authoritarian leader ordered the Interior Ministry on August 19 to put down mass protests that erupted across the country against the results, which gave Lukashenka just over 80 percent of the vote.

The European Union held an emergency summit on the crisis, with EU Council President Charles Michel saying afterward that the 27-nation bloc's message "is very clear. Stop the violence,"

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.

"We stand firmly behind the right of Belarusian people to determine their own fate, and the EU will impose shortly sanctions on a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression and election fraud," Michel said.

"The election was neither free nor fair. And that's why the result of the election cannot be recognized," German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency added at the end of the summit.

Opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who drew tens of thousands of people to her campaign rallies, claims to have actually received between 60 and 70 percent of the vote.

Earlier in the day, Lukashenka also ordered border controls to be tightened to prevent what he alleged was an influx of "fighters and arms" from abroad.

"There should be no more riots in Minsk. People are tired; people demand peace and quiet," Lukashenka said during a meeting of his security council, signaling another escalation after a week and a half of mass demonstrations against his rule, in which at least three people were killed and more than 7,000 detained, according to reports.

The third fatality was registered on August 19, when a 44-year-old Brest resident who had been wounded by live ammunition during the protests died in a military hospital in Minsk, acording to media reports.

Hundreds of people released from detention have spoken of brutal beatings they suffered in detention.

Lukashenka said he had instructed border authorities to beef up defenses "along the entire perimeter" of the country to "prevent militants, weapons, ammunition and money from other countries from entering Belarus to finance the riots."

"We see that this money is coming," he told officials.

Defying the security forces, hundreds of protesters assembled in front of the Interior Ministry, which runs the police, by early evening on August 19. A large number of officers were stationed there with vans, but they took no action.

Demonstrators chanted "Resign!" and "Let them out!" in reference to those still detained, while passing cars honked their horns in the rain.

Timeline: Postelection Developments In Belarus

Some of the key events that have followed the contested reelection of longtime Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Earlier, police dispersed a demonstration and detained two people at the Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ) plant that was once considered a bedrock of Luksahsenka's base.

Police also took over of the main state drama theater in Minsk, a flashpoint for protests since its director was fired for speaking out against the mistreatment of demonstrators.

Opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who drew tens of thousands of people to her campaign rallies, claims to have actually received between 60 and 70 percent of the vote.

The Belarusian election committee said on August 19 that Lukashenka, who has ruled with an iron fist for 26 years, would be inaugurated as president for a new term within the next two months, but that no date had yet been set, the TASS news agency reported.

Earlier on August 19, Tsikhanouskaya called on EU leaders in a video address to "support the awakening” of her country and respect the choice of the Belarusian people amid widespread anger over a controversial presidential election.

As opposition leaders on August 18 formed a coordinating council to organize a transfer of power, Lukashenka described the move as an attempt to stage a coup.

As Belarus Protests Continue, Lukashenka Accuses Opposition Of Trying To 'Seize Power'
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In her video address, Tsikhanouskaya, who left for neighboring Lithuania after the vote, called on EU leaders “not to recognize these fraudulent elections," adding that Lukashenka “has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world."

Speaking in English, she also denounced a postelection crackdown, saying: "People who came out to defend their votes on the streets of their cities all across Belarus were brutally beaten, imprisoned, and tortured by the regime desperately clinging on to power.”

The opposition’s coordinating council met for the first time on August 18, saying it represents the people and seeks to negotiate a peaceful transition of power "without political goals or a program."

Volha Kovalkova, a representative of opposition figure Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said at a press conference establishing the coordinating council that she expected Tsikhanouskaya would soon return to Minsk to act as a guarantor in a negotiated transition of power.

"We are operating solely through legal means," Kovalkova said. "The situation is critical. The authorities have no choice but to come to dialogue. The situation will only get worse."

Tsikhanouskaya said in an online video earlier this week that she was prepared to temporarily take over the leadership.

Protesters rally against the presidential election in Hrodna on August 18.
Protesters rally against the presidential election in Hrodna on August 18.

Poland's Foreign Ministry said on August 19 that prominent Belarusian opposition activists Valery and Veranika Tsapkala had arrived in the EU member state.

Ex-diplomat Valery Tsapkala was barred from standing in the August 9 election, while his wife, Veranika, gained prominence for flanking Tsikhanouskaya at opposition rallies during the campaign.

EU leaders held their emergency video summit after the bloc’s foreign ministers agreed last week to prepare new sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for "violence, repression and the falsification of election results."

Michel spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 18, expressing concern about election irregularities and a crackdown against protesters.

The two discussed the best way to encourage intra-Belarusian dialogue for a peaceful end to the crisis, a European diplomat told RFE/RL.

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke with Putin in separate calls on August 18.

According to her press service, Merkel told Putin that the Belarusian authorities should refrain from violence against peaceful demonstrators and release political prisoners. She also said Lukashenka should hold talks with opposition groups.

Lukashenka spoke with Putin twice over the weekend, stating afterward that the Russian leader promised him security assistance if Belarus needs it. Russia has close economic and military ties with Belarus.

On August 19, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned Russia not to interfere in the Belarus crisis, which he said "is not about geopolitics but the right to choose one's leaders."

Former Vice President Biden, who on August 18 won his party's presidential endorsement at the ongoing Democratic convention organized online because of the coronavirus pandemic, tweeted, "The brave citizens of Belarus are showing their voices will not be silenced by terror or torture. The U.S. should support Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's call for fair elections. Russia must be told not to interfere -- this is not about geopolitics but the right to choose one's leaders."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, dpa, and AP
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