Wed, 23 Sep 2020

Belarusian police clashed with protesters in Minsk for the second evening in a row on Monday after President Alexander Lukashenko won a landslide victory in a contested election, a Reuters witness said.

Police were seen dragging protesters out of a crowd and beating them with truncheons. More than 30 people were detained, the witness said.

Separately the head of the Belarusian state security service said it had prevented an attempt on the life of Lukashenko's main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, the ONT television channel reported.

France on Monday urged "the greatest restraint" in Belarus after the security forces cracked down on protesters disputing results that declared Lukashenko victorious.

"We watch with concern the violence against Belarusian citizens who demonstrated after the closing of polling stations and call for the greatest restraint," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

US 'deeply concerned'

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the US is "deeply concerned" about the conduct of the presidential election in Belarus, which was not free and fair.

Monday's 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 dozens of 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.

Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek dismissed Lukashenko's claim, saying his country has not organised any protests.

The interior ministry said 89 people were injured during the protests late Sunday and early Monday, 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".

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP and AP)

Orginally published on France24

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