Election protests in Belarus - 3,000 arrested

Sunday was election day in Belarus and shortly after voting ended the government announced the results of an exit poll which said President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994, would win another term. That didn’t sit well with a lot of people including Sec. of State Mike Pompeo:

On Monday, the Belarusian Central Election Commission declared that Lukashenko had won with 80.23 percent of the vote to [opposition candidate Svetlana] Tikhanovskaya’s 9.9 percent, with the remaining votes split between three other candidates. Tikhanovskaya rejected the election results and said her team would do everything they could to challenge them. Exit polls conducted outside of Belarusian Embassies in 19 countries with large diasporas suggested that Tikhanovskaya received almost 80 percent of the vote while results from some of Minsk’s more reliable polling stations also put the opposition candidate in the lead. In a statement on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The United States is deeply concerned about the conduct of the August 9 presidential election in Belarus, which was not free and fair.”

The NY Times reports that the outcome of the election was never in doubt but after the results were announced, phone service and the internet suddenly went out:

A heavy cloak of security descended over the capital, Minsk, where internet service was cut off, phones worked only sporadically and soldiers and riot police cordoned off the central square and the main public buildings. Long before the results were announced, the opposition, predicting that the count would be illegitimate, had called for protests on Sunday night…

The downtown area vibrated with the din of stun grenades as security forces, backed by water cannons, moved in to break up crowds of opposition supporters who gathered throughout the evening in locations across the city.

“I don’t know who voted for him, how could he get 80 percent?” said Dmitri, 25. Like many people here, he refused to give his last name for fear of repercussions.

Despite warnings from Kukashenko, thousands of people went out in the streets anyway:

As it got dark the number of people in the street increased:

Riot police were marching through the streets and at least one person was killed. But people are angry and sometimes they outnumber the police:

Streets are being barricaded:

Some are throwing Molotov cocktails:

Things are finally settling down in the middle of the night:

Foreign Policy reports that 3,000 people have been arrested.

At the center of all this is opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. She wasn’t supposed to be running for president, her husband was. After he was arrested she agreed to become a candidate:

In the spring, it was already clear that the election would not pass quietly, as the opposition video blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky announced on May 6 that he was going to run for president with the campaign slogan “Stop the Cockroach,” a reference to Lukashenko’s indefatigable rule. Voters turned out in droves to sign petitions in support of his candidacy. When Tikhanovsksy was arrested two days later, they collected signatures to put his wife on the ballot instead.

And Tikhanovskaya proved popular despite the fact that she clearly wasn’t looking for political power:

An English translator and mother of two, Tikhanovskaya decided to run after her husband, a popular blogger, was jailed in May.

“I don’t need power, but my husband is behind bars,” Tikhanovskaya told a giant campaign rally in the capital Minsk on Thursday. “I’ve had to hide my children. I’m tired of putting up with it. I’m tired of being silent. I’m tired of being afraid.”

Tikhanovskaya went into hiding Saturday after police were seen near her apartment and members of her campaign team were arrested:

She appeared Sunday to vote. However after the results were announced she went to a government office with her attorney to file a formal complaint and hasn’t been seen since:

Hopefully she’ll be released soon.

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Ed Morrissey 1:20 PM | July 17, 2024