Belarus autocrat Lukashenko vows to crush opponents

World | 10 Aug 2020 11:23 pm

 Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko warned Monday that the protesters who challenge the official vote results extending his 26-year rule will face a tough crackdown, deriding the opposition as “sheep” manipulated by foreign masters.

Dozens were injured and thousands detained hours after Sunday’s vote, when police brutally broke up mostly young protesters with tear gas, water cannons and flash-bang grenades and beat them with truncheons. Rights activists said one person died after being run over by a police truck — which the authorities denied.

Election officials said Monday that Lukashenko won a sixth term in office with 80 percent of the vote, while opposition challenger Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya got 10 percent. Tsikhanouskaya dismissed the official results as a sham and vowed to dispute them, and the opposition is planning new protests in the capital, Minsk, and other cities later in the day.

The brutal police crackdown drew harsh criticism from European capitals and will likely complicate Lukashenko’s efforts to mend ties with the West amid tensions with his main ally and sponsor, Russia.

But Lukashenko, whose iron-fisted rule since 1994 has fueled growing discontent in the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million, warned that he wouldn’t hesitate to use force again to disperse the opposition demonstrations. He argued that the protesters met a due response overnight after injuring 25 police officers and attempting to take control of official buildings in several Belarusian cities.

“We will not allow them to tear the country apart,” he said.

The 65-year-old former state farm director asserted that the opposition was being directed from Poland and the Czech Republic, adding that some groups in Ukraine and Russia could also have been behind the protests.

“They are directing the (opposition) headquarters where those sheep don’t understand what they want from them,” he said in a dismissive reference to Tsikhanouskaya and her campaign.

The Interior Ministry said 89 people were injured during the protests, including 39 law enforcement officers, and about 3,000 people were detained, some 1,000 of them in Minsk. It insisted that no one was killed during the protests and called reports about a fatality “an absolute fake.”

Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher without any prior political experience, entered the race after her husband, an opposition blogger who had hoped to run for president, was arrested in May. She has managed to unite fractured opposition groups and draw tens of thousands to her campaign rallies — the largest opposition demonstrations since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.-AP

 

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