The German government has heavily criticized the events surrounding the presidential election in Belarus. "The numerous reports of systematic irregularities and violations of voting rights are credible," said government spokesman Steffen Seibert. The elections did not meet the minimum democratic standards. It was regrettable that the leadership in Minsk had not complied with the EU's request to allow observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The federal government condemns the use of force and the numerous arrests, said Seibert. The Belarusian government must guarantee the rights of the people in the country. It will now have to be discussed within the framework of the European Union how Europe will react together. He called for a uniform stance among the 27 member states. The more influential the EU is, the more it can speak with one voice.
The Green politician Cem Özdemir wrote on Twitter: "Lukashenka's imagination knows no bounds: Nobody believes that he received 80% of the votes. Police violence has already resulted in innumerable injuries and one dead. Apples against rubber bullets and stun grenades." The international community could "not let Lukashenko get away with this approach," wrote Özdemir.
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3,000 arrests, many injured, uncertainties about fatalities
According to the government, state security forces arrested 3,000 people during the protests on the evening after the presidential election. According to the Vyassna Human Rights Center (Spring), one person was killed in the protests, but the authorities deny this. The Interior Ministry said more than 50 civilians and 39 police officers were injured. Among those injured was an Associated Press reporter who received hospital treatment after being beaten by police officers. Before that, Vyassna spoke of at least 100 people arrested.
After the election, there were riots across the country, but especially in the capital Minsk, where tens of thousands had gathered and called for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, who was officially confirmed in office. Lukashenko won the vote according to the election commission with 80.2 percent, his challenger Svetlana Tichanowskaja, who was able to gather the entire opposition behind her in the weeks before the election, came with 9.9 percent.
The protests had formed on Sunday during the ongoing vote. Activists from numerous electoral districts distributed photos of the counting results, which in many places showed a clear majority for Tikhonovskaya. Lukashenko had the Internet cut off in Minsk on election day, in particular the websites of opposition organizations were not accessible. Opposition bloggers like Stepan Putilo, known as "Nexta", relayed videos of the protests in Minsk via Telegram channels, which gained hundreds of thousands of subscribers after the Internet blocks.
Opposition candidate declares herself the election winner
On them, violent actions by the state special unit OMON against demonstrators, some of whom were arbitrarily pulled out, could be seen. A video shows a man being run over by a truck, his current condition is not known, nor is it known whether it is the dead man mentioned by the activists. Videos from other cities also showed how police officers voluntarily withdrew from the protesters and lowered their weapons. Outside of Minsk, the police presence is said to be relatively small, as the regime has concentrated many forces in the capital. There the security forces used water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades against the demonstrators.
The opposition candidate Tikhonovskaya has meanwhile called on Lukashenko to withdraw and declared herself the winner of the election. The government must think about "how it can peacefully hand over power to us," Tikhonovskaya told journalists in Minsk on Monday. "I consider myself the winner of this election. Yesterday the voters made their choice, but the authorities didn't hear us," she said. "You broke with the people." The wife of blogger Sergei Tichanowski, who had been imprisoned and excluded from the election, also criticized the crackdown on demonstrators and spoke of "disproportionate measures" by the police. "We have seen that the authorities are trying to hold on to their position by force," said the candidate. "As much as we asked the authorities not to turn against their own people - they didn't listen to us."
Belarus received mixed messages from abroad. Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenko on his election victory. Relations between the two neighboring "brother peoples" should be strengthened, wrote Putin, who had fallen out with Lukashenko in recent years, partly because of failed attempts at union between the two countries. Before the election, Lukashenko had also announced that Belarusian authorities had arrested 33 Russian mercenaries who, according to the president, were in the country to influence the election. China's President Xi Jingping and the head of state of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Shomart Tokayev, also congratulated the authoritarian president, often referred to as the “last dictator in Europe”.
Neighboring countries call for an end to violence against demonstrators
Unlike Putin, the leaderships of other neighboring countries of Belarus reacted negatively to developments during and after the election. Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins has expressed doubts about the official election results. The current events show that they do not reflect public opinion, wrote the Prime Minister on Twitter. "I urge the government of Belarus not to use force. I support the desire of the Belarusian people to live in an independent and democratic country and to exercise freedom of expression and assembly," Karins continued. The Foreign Ministry in Riga also described the use of violence against the demonstrators as "unacceptable" and demanded the immediate release of the arrested demonstrators.
Poland, which is also neighboring, has called for a special EU summit on the situation in the ex-Soviet republic. The Belarusian authorities have violently "taken action against their citizens who are demanding change in their country," said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. "We must support the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom." EU Council President Charles Michel has also condemned the appearance of the security forces. "Freedom of expression, assembly and basic human rights must be upheld," he said. "Violence against the protesters is not the answer."
Lukashenko has been President of Belarus since 1994. No election other than its first is accepted as democratic by the OSCE. This year he wanted to be elected for a sixth term, but encountered resistance from the marginalized opposition, which has rarely been resolute in recent decades. Human rights abuses, weak economic development and irritating comments about the coronavirus, which the president described as "psychosis" that can be cured with vodka, damaged his reputation. The aggressive demeanor of the state against the demonstrators on election night is likely to cause Lukashenko's dwindling popularity to decline even more. There has been no official statement from him since the beginning of the election.
Belarus - Sonderkommandos take action against protests after presidential election Tens of thousands gathered in Minsk to demand the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko. The police reacted harshly and many were injured. © Photo: Misha Friedman / Getty Images