Belarus challenger urges EU to support ‘awakening’ country

Belarus challenger urges EU to support ‘awakening’ country
Lithuania Belarus

The Belarusian opposition leader has urged European leaders not to recognise “fraudulent elections” that extended the rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and sparked unprecedented mass protests in the country.

In a video statement released ahead of Wednesday’s emergency summit of EU leaders, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on Europe to support “the awakening of Belarus”.

“I call on you not to recognise these fraudulent elections. Mr Lukashenko has lost all the legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” she said.

Mr Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist since 1994, won his sixth term with 80% of votes in the August 9 election, but it was widely seen as rigged.

Alexander Lukashenko (Andrei Stasevich/AP)

Ms Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher who united fractured opposition groups and drew tens of thousands to rally in her support, got only 10%.

She dismissed the results as falsified and demanded a recount, but then suddenly left the country for Lithuania in a move her campaign said was made under duress.

Earlier this week she said she was ready to act as a national leader to facilitate a rerun of the election, and her associates announced the formation of a “co-ordination council” to help create a platform for a peaceful transition of power.

“I have initiated the national co-ordination council of Belarus. It will lead the process of a peaceful transition of power via dialogue. It will immediately call for new fair and democratic presidential elections with international supervision,” Ms Tsikhanouskaya said in the latest video statement.

Mr Lukashenko repeatedly rejected demands to step down and bristled at the idea of talks with the opposition, denouncing the co-ordination council as a “an attempt to seize power”.

Protesters in Minsk (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

Hundreds of thousands of people have protested in Belarus since August 9. The rallies have continued for 10 straight days despite a brutal response from the police, who in the first four days detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs. At least two protesters died.

This week, workers at several major industrial plants, including a huge factory that accounts for a fifth of the world’s potash fertiliser output, have started a strike demanding Mr Lukashenko resign.

Western officials refused to recognise the election as free or fair and criticised the violent crackdown. The EU is preparing a list of Belarus officials who could be blacklisted in Europe over their roles.

In a letter inviting leaders of the bloc to the teleconference, EU Council president Charles Michel said “what we have witnessed in Belarus is not acceptable”, adding that the “violence against peaceful protesters was shocking and has to be condemned. Those responsible must be held to account”.

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