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Why are there protests on the streets of Belarus?

Why are there protests on the streets of Belarus?

Following Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko's announced victory in the presidential election, protests have erupted on the nation's streets after accusations of vote-rigging and corruption.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has long been considered "Europe's last dictator" and won the election with 79.7% of the vote, supposedly defeating Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leading to calls of rigging, after reports of her winning many precincts throughout the country.

Tikhhanovskaya and her campaign team have declared victory based on genuine results from 20 polling stations, urging the real results to be released in the coming days - after the official results showed her with just 7% of the vote - and calling on her supporters to take to the streets.

Following the protests, the New York Times reported that "a heavy cloak of security descended over the capital, Minsk", with a heavy police presence aiming to disrupt and put down protests against the legitimacy of the election result

It is believed that at least one person has died in the clashes between protesters and police, with the police putting down protests, often violently, drawing criticism from many western leaders.

UK Foreign Office Minister, James Duddridge stated: "The violence and the attempts by Belarusian authorities to suppress protests are completely unacceptable".

Speaking about the elections in Belarus, United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, questioned the legitimacy of the election, stating that there was evidence of: "severe restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation tactics employed against opposition candidates, and the detentions of peaceful protesters and journalists".

President's Xi of China and Putin of Russia both congratulated Lukashenko on his re-election, whilst Russia's permanent representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, speculated that the west were in some way responsible for, or orchestrating, the protests in Belarus.

Lukashenko has ruled as an authoritarian for more than two decades in Belarus and shows no signs of leaving office soon, despite his failures at handling the Coronavirus pandemic, infamously claiming Belarusians were too strong to be impacted by Coronavirus and holding a military parade - where he was shaking hands with other officials - during the pandemic.

Lukashenko appears unmoved by the protests, urging protesters to "calm down" and telling parents to "check where their [your] child is, so it won't hurt later".

As of yet, there is limited public evidence to suggest that Lukashenko had indeed rigged the election, however, with limited access for foreign observers, it is perhaps unlikely that the result will ever be properly verified, however, with the intensity of protests rising, there is a belief amongst many Lukashenko opponents that this could be their opportunity to oust 'Europe's last dictator.'

 

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