INTERNATIONAL – Controversial results. On the night of Sunday to Monday, August 10, Belarusian police forcibly dispersed crowds of protesters after a tense presidential election having opposed President Alexander Loukachenko, widely at the helm, and an unexpected rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, who demands the support of a “majority”.
Shortly after the announcement of an official poll in which almost 80% was given to the incumbent president, in power since 1994, critics of power in Minsk gathered by the thousands in different places despite warnings from the authorities, that they had deployed a major riot control system.
Police said they used “special equipment” to disperse the gatherings, including stun grenades, and made arrests, without specifying the number, as “the events continue.”
The Interior Ministry claimed to have the “situation under control”, while various media, including radio financed by the United States’ RFE / RL, denounced the use of rubber bullets. They posted images of injured protesters, with blood pouring from their faces.
Alexandre, a 35-year-old protester who participated in clashes with the police, told AFP that he had protested against the “total falsification” of the elections. “It is a crime and a humiliation of the people,” he added.
The opposition rallies, theaters in places of muscular police interventions, were also held, according to local media, in provincial cities, including Brest, Pinsk, Gomel and Grodno.
An AFP journalist heard the explosion of stun grenades near the Stella monument in the capital and saw the police, equipped with shields, heading towards the protesters. An AFP photographer saw protesters harassing police officers, while others waved flags symbolizing opposition in front of police lines blocking roads in Minsk. Ales Bialiatski, director of the human rights NGO Viasna, denounced to AFP a “disproportionate” use of force by the police.
By putting his ballot in the polls early Sunday, Alexander Lukashenko had promised that there would be no “loss of control” or “chaos” in the country.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, the unexpected opponent
The election campaign was marked by an unprecedented mobilization in favor of a newcomer to politics, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37, an English teacher by training, who was able to draw crowds.
She estimated on Sunday night that “the majority” of her fellow citizens supported her, while the official poll conducted at the exit of the polling stations gave her 6.8% of the votes, compared to 79.7% for Alexander Lukashenko. .
Election day was marked by a tense atmosphere and giant queues in the polling stations, described by the Electoral Commission as “sabotage” of the presidential election and “provocation” organized by the opposition.
Ms. Tikhanovskaya also recommended that her supporters wear white armbands and take a photo of their ballot to allow for independent counting. “I believe that we have already won because we have conquered our fear,” said Ms Tikhanovskaya, who had denounced in recent days “blatant fraud” orchestrated by the authorities, in the absence of independent national and international observers.
Official results were expected overnight from Sunday to Monday. The participation stood at 84.5%, according to official figures.
No free ballot since 1995
The authorities had redoubled their efforts at the end of the campaign to stop the rise of Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa. The head of her campaign headquarters, María Moroz, was arrested on Saturday, as were nine other collaborators.
In this context, many fear that the repression will increase. “Knowing the ruthless nature of Lukashenko, anyone interested in Belarus will be concerned for the Belarusian people in the coming days,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and AFP. former British ambassador to Minsk.
Before the appearance of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Alexander Lukashenko’s main rivals had been dismissed: two are in prison, a third is in exile. The other three authorized candidates did not mobilize.
The rise of Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa took place in the context of increasing economic difficulties, aggravated by tensions with Russia, accused of trying to vassal Belarusand Alexander Lukashenko’s controversial response to the coronavirus epidemic, which he called “psychosis.” Belarus has not had a free vote since 1995. On several occasions, demonstrations have been bluntly repressed.
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