EU president calls emergency summit on Belarus elections

EU president calls emergency summit on Belarus elections

European Council president Charles Michel has convened an emergency summit of EU leaders to discuss the presidential election in Belarus and the violence in the wake of protests against the result.

Mr Michel tweeted that “the people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader” as he said the video conference would take place on Wednesday at 11am UK time.

“Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed,” he added.

The 27 EU foreign ministers said on Friday that the elections were neither free nor fair and that they refuse to accept the results of the polls, as announced by the Belarus electoral commission.

The announcement came after thousands of factory workers took to the streets on Monday and hundreds of demonstrators besieged the state television headquarters, raising the pressure on president Alexander Lukashenko to step down after 26 years in office.

On the ninth straight day of protests against the official results of the vote handing him a sixth term, Mr Lukashenko flew by helicopter to a factory in Minsk in a bid to rally support but was met by workers chanting “go away”.

Facing the crowd, the 65-year-old dismissed the calls to step down.

As he spoke, over 5,000 striking workers from the Minsk Tractor Works plant marched down the streets, demanding that Mr Lukashenko cede his post to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leading opposition candidate.

The official results of the election vote gave Mr Lukashenko 80% of the vote and Ms Tsikhanouskaya only 10%, but the opposition claim the vote was rigged.

Large-scale protests against the vote results continued even after Ms Tsikhanouskaya left the country for Lithuania last week, a move her campaign said was made under duress. The protests have posed the biggest challenge yet to Mr Lukashenko’s rule of the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million.

Protests have continued in Belarus (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Belarusian authorities initially tried to suppress the rallies, detaining almost 7,000 people in the first days of the protests. Police moved aggressively, using stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

However, as protests grew and the crackdown drew criticism, law enforcement refrained from interfering and appeared all but absent during a rally on Sunday that attracted some 200,000 people.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya said in a video statement on Monday she was ready to facilitate a re-run of the disputed election.

“I’m ready to take on the responsibility and act as a national leader in order for the country to calm down, return to its normal rhythm, in order for us to free all the political prisoners and prepare legislation and conditions for organising new presidential elections,” she said.

Mr Lukashenko bristled at the idea of talks with the opposition, insisting his government was the only legitimate one, and rejected the idea of repeating the election at a rally in his support on Sunday.

The embattled president told a crowd of 50,000 that the country would “perish as a state” otherwise, and denounced the protesters as stooges of foreign masterminds.

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