Belarus’s main challenger Alexander Lukashenko has refused to accept the autocratic president who won 80% of the vote in Sunday’s elections.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya̵7;s election campaign said the results announced on Monday morning “completely contrary to common sense”.
This comes after thousands of arrests after riot protesters and police clash in the capital Minsk and other cities.
Lack of oversight – no observers present – has led to widespread concern about poll fraud.
The election was held amid growing disappointment at Mr Lukashenko’s leadership, with opposition protests attracting large crowds. The previous days have seen a crackdown on activists and journalists.
The President has described the opposition’s supporters as “sheep” to be controlled from abroad, and vowed not to let the country be divided.
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Mr. Lukashenko won 80.23% of the vote, according to the results of the preliminary counting, while Ms. Tikhanovskaya received 9.9%.
Tikhanovskaya participated in the election on behalf of her imprisoned husband and continued to lead major protests.
Mr. Lukashenko, 65, has been in power since 1994.
What did Tikhanovskaya say?
The opposition candidate said she sees herself as a winner and that the authorities should think about how to peacefully hand over power.
“We see that the authorities are trying to hold their positions by force,” she said.
“No matter how much we ask the authorities not to chase down their people, we are still not listening.”
Her campaign said it would challenge “many deviations” in the vote.
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“The election results announced by the Central Election Commission do not correspond to reality and completely contradict common sense,” said her spokeswoman Anna Krasulina.
But Mr. Lukashenko despised Tikhanovskaya’s comments.
“Therefore, Lukashenko, the head of the power structure and the head of state, after reaching 80% of the vote, must voluntarily leave power to them,” the president said. “The orders came from there [abroad]. “
“Our response will be strong,” he added. “We will not allow the country to be divided.”
What is the international response?
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his Belarus counterpart, despite the controversy over allegations of a Russian conspiracy that Lukashenko had tried to link up with the opposition.
Leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Azerbaijan sent out messages of support.
But the German government said it had “strong doubts” about the election and that the minimum standards were not met.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the results to be announced.
“Violent harassment and suppression of peaceful protesters have no place in Europe,” she said.
Meanwhile, Poland has called for an urgent EU summit to discuss the crisis.
‘Happiness as a loser’
Belarusian media and online experts have given completely different stories about the poll’s aftermath.
The government-owned Belarus 24 television station accused “provocators” of “blocking the operation of polling stations”. It says “belligerents” act on directions getting past [messaging app] Telegram attempts to take over government buildings.
“The clashes were staged by aggressive youth groups. Unfortunately, there are still victims,” said another state channel, STV. “Provocative offenders will be held accountable.”
The Belarusian government newspaper Segodnya did not mention the protests. Its top headline simply states that “Lukashenko is elected president” and the newspaper carries congratulatory messages from world leaders.
Although online media support for the opposition has been affected by the Internet incident, there is a heated debate on social media.
“This is war. A war waged by a mad old man against his people,” famous journalist Dmitry Halko said on Facebook.
“Blood on the face, blood on the clothes, blood on the asphalt. If this is a victory, I am happy to be among the losers,” said writer Viktor Martsinovich.
What happened during the Sunday protests?
Protesters took to the streets in central Minsk shortly after the vote ended. Many shouted “Go away” and other anti-government slogans.
Police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tornadoes.
Reports from a human rights group that a man died proved to be untrue.
However, footage on social media showed a man clinging to the front of a police truck and losing control as it accelerated, crashing into his head.
The Ministry of the Interior said 50 civilians and 39 police were injured.
The ministry added that three thousand people have been arrested. About a third of them are in Minsk, and the rest are in other cities such as Brest, Gomel and Grodno, where similar protests take place.
What is context?
President Lukashenko was first elected in 1994.
In the final vote in 2015, he was declared the winner with 83.5% of the vote. There were no serious challengers and election observers reported problems in ballot counting and tabulation.
The campaign saw the rise of 37-year-old Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher who became a housewife until she got political attention.
After her husband was arrested and blocked from registering to vote, she replaced him.
President Lukashenko considered Tikhanovskaya a “poor girl”, manipulated by foreign “puppet masters”.
On the eve of the election, Tikhanovskaya’s team said her campaign manager was arrested and will not be released until Monday.
And on Sunday, as everyone voted, internet service was “significantly disrupted,” according to online monitoring company NetBlocks. Opposition supporters say this makes evidence of electoral fraud harder to gather and share.
There have been concerns about the lack of oversight because observers were not invited to follow the election and more than 40% of the votes were cast off before the election.
Tens of thousands defied an escalating crackdown on the opposition last month to attend a rally in Minsk, the biggest in a decade.
Anger at Mr Lukashenko’s government was partly driven by their response to the coronavirus.
The President has downplayed the outbreak, recommending people to drink vodka and use saunas to fight the plague.
Belarus, a country with a population of 9.5 million, has reported nearly 70,000 cases and nearly 600 deaths.