Belarus unrest: Opposition appeals to EU as summit begins

Belarus opposition activists hold a flag with a portrait of opposition leader Svetlana TikhanovskayaImage copyright

Image caption

Opposition activists hold a flag with a portrait of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya

The exiled leader of the opposition in Belarus has urged the EU to reject its “fraudulent” election, as the EU began an emergency summit on the crisis.

Speaking from Lithuania, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said President Alexander Lukashenko had “lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world”.

The official result gave him 80% of the vote but has sparked 10 days of street protests and strikes.

Mr Lukashenko accused the opposition of “an attempt to seize power”.

The president has led Belarus since 1994 and has rejected calls for another election.

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The opposition says Ms Tikhanovskaya was the victim of massive vote-rigging. Thousands of protesters have been arrested amid deadly clashes with police.

What did Ms Tikhanovskaya say?

The 37 year old, who left for Lithuania after being detained for hours following the vote, released a video statement on Wednesday.

She urged the EU to back what she called the “awakening of Belarus”.

She said: “People who went out to defend their vote in the streets of their cities all across Belarus were brutally beaten, imprisoned and tortured by the regime desperately clinging on to power. This is taking place right now in the middle of Europe.”

Ms Tikhanovskaya has formed a “co-ordination council” with plans for a “new, fair and democratic presidential elections with international supervision”.

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Minsk says Ms Tikhanovskaya is trying to shape a people’s uprising that has so far had momentum but no clear sense of direction.

What is the EU’s stance?

The EU has already signalled it will impose sanctions on officials deemed responsible for election fraud and the violent crackdown on protesters.

Its virtual summit is now under way.

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EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton told Europe 1 radio: “It is clear that [the result] is not in line with the wish of the people; there has been unacceptable violence and the rule of law is not respected. Sanctions have already been taken and will no doubt be reinforced this afternoon.”

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Media captionLarge crowds of anti-government demonstrators rallied in the capital on Sunday

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the EU could not accept the result and called for “resolute and concerted” action.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both urged Mr Lukashenko’s ally Russia to help create dialogue between the authorities and the opposition.

The pair spoke to President Vladimir Putin by phone on Tuesday. Mrs Merkel made it clear the right to protest must be upheld. The Kremlin said Mr Putin had warned against foreign meddling.

What has Russia said?

It has maintained that the election is an internal matter for Belarus.

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Mr Lukashenko says President Vladimir Putin has promised to provide assistance in the event of any external military threat.

On Wednesday Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at present there was no need for Russia to help Belarus militarily or otherwise.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped the parties in Belarus would engage in talks and there was no need for outside mediation.

Different approach?

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Minsk

There have been some signs this morning of a change in tactics from the Belarusian authorities in Minsk.

For the past few days, there have been large numbers of opposition supporters taking to the streets, calling for Mr Lukashenko to step down. Mostly they’ve been allowed to do that without the attention of the security forces who have clearly been under orders to not interfere. One of the places they’ve been coming to is Belarusian state TV, a key instrument of power for Mr Lukashenko.

Both protesters and striking employees from state TV have gathered in front of the building and chanted “tell the truth!”, complaining that state TV has not been covering the huge demonstrators and the crackdown.

There is now a checkpoint on the road. Anyone who wants to walk to state TV is having their identity documents checked by police officers. Strikes at factories around Minsk today have also been obstructed by police.

More about the protests in Belarus

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Media captionOpposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and President Lukashenko give very different messages