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June 24, 2021

Belarus opposition stages massive protest over Lukashenko win

MINSK – President Alexander Lukashenko has won re-election with 79% of the vote, state media said Monday, citing preliminary voting results, according to CNN. The country’s Central Election Commission told the state-run Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BelTA) that the voter turnout was 90% and that it had not received any complaints.

However, opposition candidates on Sunday took to the streets in the capital city of Minsk and clashed with police as preliminary results trickled in. Several hundred protesters were arrested and taken away by riot police, journalist Alexander Lukashuk said. However, Belarus’ Interior Ministry, in a statement on its website, said “several thousand of the most aggressive delinquents” were arrested in the protests. “The overwhelming majority of them were drunk unemployed people and students of various schools and universities, some of them under age,” the ministry said.

One demonstration was in support of presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev, who was hurt in clashes with riot police, Russian news agency Interfax said. The election commission said Monday that Neklyaev received 1.77% of the votes.

Another candidate, Nikolai Statkevich, told state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti that he, too, was beaten. The election commission numbers, cited by BelTA, put the number of votes Statkevich received at 1.04%.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has repeatedly expressed concerns over the status of civil and political rights in Belarus. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once called Lukashenko “the last dictator in Europe.” The OSCE said in a statement Monday that its observers reported while the election showed improvement, “Belarus still has a considerable way to go in meeting its OSCE commitments.” It noted the detention of candidates as well as activists, journalists and others.
Authorities used stun grenades on the demonstrators as they headed toward October Square in downtown Minsk, Interfax reported. However, several thousand people gathered in the square, chanting “For Belarus!” Some of them waved flags with the symbol of the Christians Democratic Party, led by candidate Vitaly Rymashevsky. The Interior Ministry said authorities knew in advance that some presidential candidates planned to “stage unsanctioned mass rallies.” The gatherings at first seemed peaceful, according to the ministry statement, but “turned into an attempt to seize the government building where the Central Elections Committee was located.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at a news conference broadcast on Russian state television Monday, said that Moscow expects Belarus to continue “to develop as a modern state based on democracy” after the election. “No matter who the leader is, Belarus will always be one of the states closest to us,” Medvedev said.

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