He is known as "Europe's last dictator," and in that sense the results of the presidential election in Belarus shouldn't be too much of a shock. Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, cruised to victory with 80% of the vote. The problem? Lukashenko controls the vote count and the state media, reports the New York Times, and the opposition isn't buying it. Widespread protests Sunday night triggered what the AP describes as a "brutal" police crackdown, along with threats from Lukashenko that the government response could get worse. Coverage:
- The vote: The official tally gives Lukashenko 80% and his main challenger, 37-year-old political novice Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, 10%. “We don’t agree with (election results), we have absolutely opposite information,” Tsikhanouskaya tells the AP. “We have official protocols from many poll stations, where the number of votes in my favor are many more times than for another candidate."
- Protests: Police used stun grenades, water cannons, and rubber bullets to try to quell protests Sunday night, reports the BBC, and the AP says officers also used truncheons to beat people. Protests unfolded in Minsk and in other cities around the country. A human rights group says one protester was killed when he was run over by a police truck, and about 120 were arrested. Meanwhile, internet and mobile networks went down.
- Threats: "Nothing will get out of control. This I guarantee,” Lukashenko said Sunday, adding that those stirring up unrest would "receive an immediate response from me.” He said "foreign puppeteers" were inciting violence and vowed that he would not "allow the country to be torn apart," per CNN. He blamed foes in Poland and the Czech Republic in particular. “They are directing the (opposition) headquarters where those sheep don't understand what they want from them."
- The stakes: This is "a precarious moment for the former Soviet republic, where decades of repression and a complete disregard for the coronavirus pandemic" threaten to bring Lukashenko down, per Axios. The New York Times notes that Lukashenko also appears to be on the outs with longtime supporter Vladimir Putin, as evidenced by last week's arrest of 33 Russians in Belarus who are accused of being there to mess with the election. Outside observers generally say the nation's last legitimate election was the one that put Lukashenko in power.
- The opponent: Tsikhanouskaya, a former school teacher, emerged as a surprisingly strong challenger, and she did so only because her husband, who intended to try to get on the ballot, was arrested on what are widely believed to be bogus financial charges. "We have already won, because we have overcome our fear, our apathy, and our indifference," she says. Radio Free Europe profiles the "accidental candidate."
- Defiant quote: “The more they beat us, the less we believe in the official results,” says Denis Golubev, a 28-year-old IT specialist who participated in the protests. “They cut the internet and blocked communications to shut our mouths, but it won't stop the protests.”
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