Clashes break out in Belarus after Lukashenko re-election

(Update adds information about clashes in pars 1-8, new headline, minor edits)

By Ignacio Ortega

Moscow, Aug 10 (efe-epa).- Clashes broke out between riot police and protesters in Minsk and other Belarusian cities Sunday after exit polling pointed to victory once again for Alexandr Lukashenko in the presidential election.

Witnesses say that in the capital, police used rubber bullets, water canon and flash grenades to disperse thousands of protesters, who on one of the city’s avenues erected a barricade.

Health services reported the admission of wounded people to hospitals, although the local police have not confirmed this.

In a video published by the local press, a truck – reportedly a police vehicle – can be seen careening through a crowd in the center of the capital, an incident in which people were said to have been injured.

Ambulances arrived in the areas of the city where the most violent crashes occurred.

Similar incidents were recorded in other cities of the country, which has been led by Lukashenko – often referred to as Europe’s last dictator – since 1994.

The press reported protests in Brest, Gomel, Grodno and Vitebsk, among others, although the opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, had earlier urged Belarusians – both civilians and the uniformed – not to resort to violence.

Once fighting broke out, Tikhanovskaya again called on protesters and security forces to stop the violence.

“I want to ask the militia and troops to remember that they are part of the people,” she said. “Please, stop the violence.”

Lukashenko was re-elected Sunday with nearly 80 percent of the votes, according to exit polls, a victory also marked by arrests of opposition protesters and journalists, the blocking of the internet and suspicions of fraud.

“The most important thing is to know how to accept defeat. That is, accepting (the result) and congratulating” one’s rival, said Lidia Yermoshina, the feared head of the Central Election Commission, a post she has held since 1996.

Lukashenko, 65, has been in power since 1994 and was seeking a sixth presidential term amid tensions with Minsk’s main ally, Russia, and thawing relations with the United States, which on Sunday sent a second shipment of petroleum to Belarus to help cover the shortfall created by the halting of Russian oil shipments to the former Soviet region.

According to exit polls made public by the Belta news agency, Lukashenko received 79.7 percent of the votes, a win which could keep him in office until 2025, an unprecedentedly long term in office in modern European history.

Meanwhile, Tiyanovskaya, the presidential candidate of the unified opposition, obtained 6.8 percent of the votes, a result quite a bit below what had been predicted by analysts.

Tiyanovskaya, who in May assumed the leadership of the opposition after the arrest of her husband Sergey Tiyanovsky, the country’s most popular blogger, managed in recent weeks to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people throughout Belarus.

“The country cannot belong to just one person,” the opposition leader said on Saturday, promising if she won the election to convene truly democratic elections within six months.

Tiyanovskaya is part of a troika with two other women – Veronika Tsepkalo, the wife of an exiled candidate, and Maria Kilesnikova, the representative of arrested banker and presidential aspirant Victor Barariko.

Despite their efforts, Lukashenko has insisted that a woman cannot become president of Belarus.

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