Lukashenko takes challenge note one year after contested Belarus elections
By Natalia Zinets
KYIV, Aug. 9 (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday issued a note of no confidence on the first anniversary of an election that his opponents say was rigged so he could extend his long reign.
Lukashenko told a press conference that he won the presidential election fairly on August 9 last year and was protecting his country from a violent uprising.
“Today Belarus is the center of the attention of the whole world,” he said. Last year some people “were preparing for a fair election, while others called for (…) a coup”. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in 2020 in the biggest challenge to the Lukashenko regime since he became president in 1994.
He clung to power, and unleashed a crackdown in which his main opponents were jailed or moved abroad. The opposition says there are more than 600 political prisoners in prison. Protests inside Belarus have subsided.
At odds with Western countries that have imposed sanctions on his government, Lukashenko has remained in power thanks to the backing and financial backing of his traditional ally, Russia, which views Belarus as a buffer state against NATO and the United States. EU.
Belarus was propelled into the international spotlight again last week after Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya refused to obey the team’s orders to return home after the Tokyo Olympics and sought refuge in Poland.
Lukashenko has also fought with the European Union since Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair flight over Belarus to land in the capital, Minsk, in May and arrested a Belarusian dissident journalist who was on board.
Separately, EU neighbors Lithuania and Poland accused the Minsk government of attempting to provoke a migrant crisis on the Belarusian border in retaliation for EU sanctions.
Lukashenko says Lithuania and Poland are to blame.
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested during the Lukashenko crackdown, described by a senior United Nations human rights official as a “human rights crisis”.
Belarusians living abroad staged rallies against Lukashenko in European capitals including Kiev, London, Warsaw and Vilnius on Sunday.
“A year ago today, the right to freely elect its leader was taken away from the people of #Belorussia. The EU is firmly by your side and will continue to do so,” said European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs EU summits, tweeted. (Written by Matthias Williams, edited by Timothy Heritage)