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Protests erupt across Belarus after "Europe's last dictator" claims election victory

Demonstrations broke out across Belarus on Sunday after a government exit poll predicted that President Aleksander Lukashenko, an authoritarian who has ruled the Eastern European country since 1994, had swept to overwhelming victory over a pro-democracy opposition candidate.

Why it matters: It's a precarious moment for the former Soviet republic, where decades of political repression and a complete disregard for the coronavirus pandemic now threaten to topple "Europe's last dictator."

The state of play: Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a teacher who replaced her husband on the ticket when he was arrested for launching his campaign, is claiming victory based on results from 20 polling stations, where a spokesman told the Globe and Mail her vote share was "two, three, four times" that of Lukashenko.

  • The government exit poll that triggered Sunday's protests, which had been ongoing at a smaller scale for weeks, showed Lukashenko with 79.7% of the vote and Tikhanovskaya with 6.8%.
  • The country's Central Election Commission said that more complete results would be coming on Monday, according to Politico.

In the meantime, thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets in cities all over the country to protest the allegedly rigged results.

  • They've been met in many instances with riot police and other security forces, who have been documented on social media deploying tear gas and violently attacking protesters.
  • Convoys of military personnel were filmed moving into the capital of Minsk, where main roads into the city have been blocked off. The internet was also reported to have been shut down late Sunday.

What they're saying: "As neighbors of Belarus, we call on Belarusian authorities to fully recognize and uphold basic democratic standards," the presidents of Poland and Lithuania said in a joint statement.

  • "We urge to refrain from violence and call for respect of fundamental freedoms, human and citizen rights including the rights of national minorities and freedom of speech."
  • "We are convinced that closer cooperation with the European Union is in the interest of Belarus, we want the doors for this cooperation to remain open and stand ready to continue to provide further support to Belarus in deepening its relations with the united European family."

The European Union and the United States, which have both enforced sanctions against Belarus for Lukashenko's human rights abuses, have yet to issue a statement as of 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates

On the ground

Riot police block an area after polls closed in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images
Opposition supporters in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images

Check out central Minsk right now.

— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) August 9, 2020

People are marching all over Minsk shouting Go Away!

— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) August 9, 2020

❗️Police truck hitting a protester in Minsk at speed

— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) August 9, 2020

The dramatic video of the crackdown in Minsk. Happening now.

— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 9, 2020

Wild video of ongoing clashes in Belarus between protesters and riot police.

— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) August 9, 2020

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