The nation of Belarus is in a state of near-siege nine days after its authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko reportedly won the latest presidential election on August 9. Lukashenko, who has already served for 26 years, is facing widespread unrest after his recent victory, which he claims he won with 80% of the votes.
His opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former teacher, reportedly won only 20% of the vote. Her husband, a political blogger who originally headed up the opposition ballot, has been jailed since May. She herself has now fled to Lithuania after what her friends call “pressure from law enforcement officials.”
She claims that the actual results gave her 60-70% of the votes.
The Associated Press reports that Tsikhanouskaya says that she is willing to “act as a national leader” as the nation should plan on another national election to clarify who is the actual president of the country.
After days of demonstrating in the streets, and after a crackdown in which clubs, rubber bullets and stun grenades were used, resulting in the arrests of newly 7,000 individuals, state security forces have relented somewhat.
Today, as many as 5,000 factory workers joined in the protests, marching on the headquarters of Belarus’ state television station on Monday in an enormous show of support for the former teacher, whom they regard as their rightful president.
In a very unusual, blunt demonstration of the widespread distaste for the longtime leader, Lukashenko was roundly heckled by workers from a helicopter factory in the capital today, as they shouted “Go Away!” during his appearance there.
However, continuing his steadfast determination not to step down despite the broad disapproval of his regime, the Belarus leader told the workers “I will never cave in to pressure.” He added that they could leave and go on strike if they so chose.
He then shouted “There will be no new election until you kill me,” adding that the nation and its economy would collapse if he is forced from office, according to the AP report.
Observers have voiced concern that Russia, Lukashenko’s powerful neighbor to the east, will prop up his regime, even to the point of using violence.
The longtime Belorussian leader spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice this past weekend, reporting later that he had been assured by Putin that he would receive support if needed, in the face of what he called “foreign aggression.”
Lukashenko has claimed that NATO forces are being beefed up along the borders of Belarus, a position that has been refuted by Alliance officials.
The neighboring nation of Lithuania has intimated that the unrest may be used as a pretext for Russia to take over Belarus, which was once part of the former Soviet Union.
European Council President Charles Michel has now convened an emergency summit of EU leaders on Wednesday to deal with the situation in Belarus.
Michel said in a Tweet: “The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader. Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed.”