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The contest after the vote Eight major takeaways from the immediate aftermath of the Belarusian presidential election

Source: Meduza
Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

On the morning of August 10, Belarusian election officials published the first preliminary results of the presidential election. According to these numbers, Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka) won more than 80 percent of the votes, while his main opposition rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya), got less than 10 percent. Turnout was a whopping 84 percent. These figures line up with the exit polls released by state-accredited sociologists, but they radically contradict reports by the opposition, which says Tikhanovskaya won 70 percent. Russian sociologist Grigory Yudin warns that neither side’s numbers are reliable because of the non-transparency of state officials’ counting procedures and the ambiguity of the opposition’s own monitoring methodology. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign refuses to recognize the election’s results and says the government’s numbers “completely contradict common sense.” In remarks on Monday, she called on “those who believe their vote was stolen” “not to remain silent.”

Mass protests erupted in major cities across Belarus on Sunday evening after voting concluded. It’s difficult to estimate crowd sizes, but reporting suggests that tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Belarus on election night. The largest assemblies occurred in Minsk, where riot police violently dispersed protesters. Aided by bus drivers who used their vehicles to block roads, demonstrators tried to use dumpsters to build barricades in the streets. Police officers gradually escalated the level of force used against protesters, beginning with tear gas and moving to stun grenades and finally rubber bullets. Despite these brutal measures, protests in the capital continued until 3 a.m., local time. Around the same time, demonstrators in other cities started packing it in, chanting “tomorrow” as they returned home.

At least one protester died on Sunday night. Initial reports stated that a police van rammed a crowd of demonstrators, but footage later emerged showing how a man climbed onto the front bumper of the van, apparently in an effort to stop the vehicle. It remains unclear if the person who died is the man filmed falling from the van and under its wheels. Another three individuals were reportedly injured by the same police vehicle. According to the “Vesna” human rights group, dozens of injured protesters were hospitalized in Minsk as of Monday morning. Police officials say 39 officers were wounded and more than 50 civilians injured in Sunday night’s skirmishes.

Meduza correspondent Maxim Solopov was one of the people injured by the police. Solopov had been reporting from Belarus for the past several days. He stopped responding to messages around 1:30 a.m. On the morning of August 10, the Russian outlet Daily Storm reported that Solopov was “very seriously beaten.” Meduza is trying to establish Maxim Solopov’s whereabouts and we welcome any information about him.

Belarus effectively disabled its Internet service on Sunday evening and many local websites remain inaccessible. The country’s major news outlets, including BelTA and Tut.by, were forced to move all reporting to their channels on the instant messaging platform Telegram. Most news coverage from on the ground in Belarus late on August 9 was transmitted over Telegram, especially content from NEXTA Live, though the objectivity of this outlet’s reports is questionable.

There are now roughly 3,000 demonstrators in police custody across the country. This is according to numbers released by the authorities midday on August 10: about 1,000 in Minsk and the rest in 32 other cities that witnessed protests. State officials have already announced criminal cases against demonstrators who allegedly used force against police officers. These people will face prison sentences between eight and 15 years. So far, the number of arrests remains significantly lower than 10 years ago, when Belarus last saw major protests after one of Lukashenko’s re-elections. During that unrest, more than 600 people (including the main opposition candidates) were arrested immediately after clashes with the police. A decade ago, however, the protests were far more concentrated in Minsk. Last night, some journalists reported rumors that Tikhanovskaya’s campaign staff barricaded themselves inside their office, fearing arrest, but this information turned out to be untrue.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was one of the first foreign leaders to comment on the events in Belarus. On his Facebook page, Zelensky warned that questions about election results “on such a scale” are a “straight path to violence, conflict, and growing public protest,” calling on Belarusians to conduct an “open, albeit difficult, dialogue.” Polish diplomats were even more direct: “The violent reaction from law enforcement, the use of force against peaceful protesters, and arbitrary arrests are unacceptable,” Poland’s Foreign Ministry said in an official statement. “We call on the Belarusian authorities to stop escalating the situation and to start respecting basic human rights.” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki later proposed an EU summit to discuss the events in Belarus.

Vladimir Putin has already congratulated Lukashenko on winning the election. The long-time Belarusian president has also received congratulations from Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym‑Jomart Tokayev, who said the election results “testify to the popular support for [Lukashenko’s] strategic course aimed at strengthening Belarus’s sovereignty and independence.” On Monday morning, Lukashenko made his first public comments about Sunday’s vote, saying the election was “like a holiday” and claiming that protests were instigated from abroad.

Text by Dmitry Kartsev

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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