Tikhanovskaya said she saw herself as the winner of the election and not Lukashenko, and described the election as massively rigged. His aides said the opposition wanted a recount of the votes at polling stations where there were problems. They also said the opposition is keen to hold talks with the authorities on how to bring about a peaceful change of power.
The country’s electoral commission reported on Monday that Lukashenko won 80.23% of the vote while Tikhanovskaya only collected 9.9%, despite a wave of popular support for Tikhanovskaya, which had organized some of the largest political rallies of the country since the days of the Soviet Union.
Similar preliminary results released on Sunday sparked unprecedented protests in cities across the country, posing the greatest threat to Lukashenko – often referred to as Europe’s last dictator – since coming to power 26 years ago.
There were bloody clashes when riot police used rubber bullets, flash grenades, tear gas and water cannons to quell protesters. Police arrested around 3,000 people, Russian news agency RIA said, citing Belarus’ interior ministry. Other demonstrations are expected Monday evening.
Lukashenko’s victory was quickly endorsed by Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stopped before congratulating Lukashenko and called in a statement for restraint. Internet connectivity in Belarus has been significantly disrupted.
Activists said they received reports that dozens of people were injured in the fighting and that one person was killed after being struck by a high-speed police van. The Belarusian Interior Ministry denied on Monday that anyone had been killed. The guard could not immediately verify death.
Photographs showed protesters with bloody faces being treated by country doctors. In one photograph, a man allegedly shot in the lung with a rubber bullet is inert, covered in blood. In another, a hooded riot policeman waves an expression of fear and frustration to an unconscious protester.
“We are tired of this rudeness, this meanness,” said a protester from Minsk who wore a dark T-shirt and mask, and declined to give his name. “We are tired of these [exit poll] digits, which are saliva in the face.
Another man, a plumber, said: “Everyone came out because we were cheated. When they gave her [Tikhanovskaya] just 6% [per exit polls], and she actually won 70%, that was outrageous.
A Guardian reporter saw police use water cannons and rubber bullets against protesters. Videos and photographs of the clashes also showed police using Czech-made sound grenades. They are said to have caused several serious injuries: one man was photographed with a piece of his foot torn off and another reportedly lost a finger to the devices.
Analysts said it was the deepest crisis Lukashenko had faced in his career. He was already facing unprecedented anger over his management of the economy and a failed response to the coronavirus. Before the elections, he jailed opposition candidates and targeted foreign allies, accusing Moscow of sending mercenaries to destabilize the country.
“It is certainly the biggest demonstration I have ever seen in Belarus since Lukashenko came to power,” said David Marples, professor at the University of Alberta and expert on Belarus. “Regarding the elections organized by Lukashenko, there was no such thing. It seems to me that the whole country is really in favor of change.
Tikhanovskaya was initially a substitute candidate for her husband, a popular YouTuber who was jailed earlier in the year. She has become an effective activist, drawing more than 63,000 people to a rally last month in Minsk, and thousands more in the small towns and villages generally dominated by Lukashenko.
She was joined on stage by two other female politicians in a “trio” that transformed the image of the country’s male dominated politics.