In Minsk, the police used stun grenades to disband crowds in the city’s downtown. There have been several reports of injuries. The state TV exit poll showed that the Belarus long-time president Lukashenko won nearly 80% of the vote.
Main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said she did not trust the figures which gave her 7%.
“I believe my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us,” she said at a news conference on Sunday evening.
The opposition had said it expected the vote to be rigged, saying it would keep an alternative count of the votes. Tikhanovskaya chose to run in place of her husband who is in jail and went on to lead large opposition rallies.
Lukashenko on the other hand has been in power since 1994. He vowed that the situation in the country will remain “under control”.
Sunday Events In Belarus
By 6 pm local time, most of the capital Minsk’s central squares and government buildings had been under a blockade. Public transport systems were shut down and roadside connections from and to the city were closed off.
There have even been reports of internet issues, as well as serious disruptions to mobile networks. Internet monitoring group NetBlocks said earlier that the connectivity had been “significantly disrupted” all over Belarus, with the situation getting worse during the day and producing an “information vacuum”.
Journalists and other independent observers appeared to be a target. At around 2 pm local time, three reporters from the Russian liberal outlet TV Dozhd were handcuffed, held to the ground, and arrested. Just before midnight, AP photographer Mstyslav Chernov ended up in the hospital with suspected concussion after being beaten by riot police inside a police van.
Footage has emerged of protesters fighting riot police in the capital, and media reports say a number of people have been arrested.
Referring to Lukashenko, crowds on the streets have been chanting “Go away!”
Similar protests are being staged overnight in Brest and Zhodino.
How Did We Get Here?
In the last vote in 2015, Lukashenko won with 83.5% of the vote. There were no dangerous challengers and election observers reported problems in the counting and tabulation of votes.
This year’s election was held amid growing signs of frustration at his leadership.
The campaign bore witness to the rise of Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher who became a stay-at-home mother until she was plunged into politics. After her husband, a major opposition leader Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was arrested and blocked from registering for the vote, she stepped in to take his place.
In the lead-up to the election she told the BBC that people in Belarus did not believe the election would be run fairly.
“But I still believe that our president will understand that his time is over. People don’t want him anymore,” she said.
President Lukashenko has dismissed Ms Tikhanovskaya as a “poor little girl”, manipulated by foreign “puppet masters”.
Dozens of thousands resisted an escalating crackdown on the opposition last month to attend a rally in the capital Minsk, the biggest such demonstration in ten years.
Since the beginning of the election campaign in May, more than 2,000 people have been detained, according to Human Rights Centre Viasna.
On the night before the voting, Tikhanovskaya’s team said her campaign manager had been detained and would not be set free until Monday.
Tikhanovskaya Hid Before The Elections
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s campaign said she left her apartment due to security reasons after police detained several of its senior staffers.
Meanwhile, her adviser Veronika Tsepkalo fled Belarus for Moscow for safety reasons, the campaign told CNN on Sunday.
Tsepkalo’s husband, former Belarusian ambassador to the US, Valery Tsepkalo, was not allowed to register as a candidate and had previously left to Russia with their children as well, fearing for their safety after receiving threats of arrest.
The main candidate, Tikhanovskaya, has previously said she had to send her children abroad after receiving threats they will be placed in an orphanage.
“She [Tikhanovskaya] won’t spend the night at home so that she is not alone,” Tikhanovskaya’s campaign said. “But she is not fleeing Minsk, she will remain in the city.”
Tikhanovskaya, a former English teacher, became a surprising rival and the face of the opposition in the past two months after taking over from her husband, Sergey Tikhanovskiy, a popular Youtube vlogger and a former candidate who has been jailed since May.
Tikhanovskaya teamed up with two women who ran other opposition campaigns after their candidates were also either barred from running or jailed.
Her campaign rallies saw big turnouts even in small Belarussian towns that are not known for their protest activity. The largest event in the capital of Minsk this July gathered around 63,000 people.
Ahead of the end of voting today, Lukashenko said his rivals weren’t even “worthy of repression.”
“All our structures and special services are ready and waiting,” he said. “There is no reason for our country to be plunged into chaos or civil war. I guarantee you that.”