Belarus protests: Here’s a look at what’s happening and why

Click to play video: 'Belarus protests: Drone footage shows scale of anti-government demonstrations'
Belarus protests: Drone footage shows scale of anti-government demonstrations
WATCH: Drone footage shows scale of anti-government demonstrations – Aug 15, 2020

Violent protests over election results that have embroiled Belarus for nearly a week continued on Saturday.

The demonstrations — which began last Sunday — have left at least one person dead and hundreds more injured.

But why are people protesting? Here’s a look at what’s going on.

Why are people protesting?

The protests began on Aug. 9 after it was announced long-time Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had been successful in his bid for re-election.

The authoritarian president was first elected in 1994 and has ruled for 26 years.

However, the results of every election in Belarus since he came into power have been disputed.

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Click to play video: 'Belarus elections ‘weren’t free, they weren’t fair’: Pompeo'
Belarus elections ‘weren’t free, they weren’t fair’: Pompeo

This election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — a former teacher — emerged as Lukashenko’s main political rival after others who opposed the long-time leader were either jailed or exiled.

Tikhanovskaya’s husband — a prominent blogger — had thrown his hat in the running and was considered one of Lukashenko’s largest competitors, until he was arrested in May.

In the weeks leading up to the election, thousands took to the streets of Belarus to participate in rallies in support of the former teacher.

But despite what appeared to be overwhelming support for Tikhanovskaya, it was announced on Sunday that Lukashenko had won the election in a landslide victory claiming 80 per cent of the vote.

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The results ignited widespread protests. Demonstrators across the country took to the streets claiming the election had been rigged and calling for Lukashenko to resign.

On Tuesday, Tikhanovskaya fled Belarus to neighbouring Lithuania.
In a video released Friday, she challenged the results, saying that copies of protocols from precincts where the vote was counted fairly show her winning 60 per cent to 70 per cent.

She urged the government to end the violence and engage in dialogue with protesters.

“The Belarusians will never want to live under the current government,” she said. “The authorities have turned peaceful demonstrations into a bloodbath.”

She said she was setting up a coordination council to ensure a “peaceful transition of power.”

Click to play video: 'Belarus elections ‘weren’t free, they weren’t fair’: Pompeo'
Belarus elections ‘weren’t free, they weren’t fair’: Pompeo

Protests erupt

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The largest of the demonstrations have taken place in the country’s capital, Minsk.

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It is estimated some 20,000 people attended a demonstration in the city at Independence Square on Friday.

While the protests were largely peaceful at the beginning, they descended into chaos as demonstrators and security forces clashed.

Police reportedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and stun grenades at protesters, leaving hundreds of people injured.

So far, one protester has died as a result of the demonstrations.

Click to play video: 'Opposition leader flees after Belarus’ disputed election'
Opposition leader flees after Belarus’ disputed election

Thousands of others have been detained during the protests, but in a bid to quell the rising tensions, authorities released 2,000 protesters who had been previously jailed on Friday.

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What has Canada said?

In a statement released Monday, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the country is “deeply concerned by violence following Belarus presidential elections.”

“The people of Belarus have demonstrated their desire for democracy through their unprecedented mobilization over the past few weeks,” the statement reads.

Champagne said prior to the election, Canada “voiced its concern over the arrests of opposition candidates, prominent Belarusian bloggers and activists for participating in peaceful protests.”

Canada is now calling on the Belarus government to “exercise restraint and uphold respect for human rights,” Champagne said.

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And in a tweet on Saturday, Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Linas Linkevicius, said he had spoken with Champagne about the ongoing situation in Belarus.

“The international community simply cannot stay indifferent to recent brutalities,” he wrote.

Champagne said on Saturday he had spoken with Tikhanovskaya.

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“I reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to the people of Belarus & that we are closely monitoring the situation on the ground as we consider next steps,” he wrote in a tweet. “Canada will always stand for the people of Belarus.”

What has the international community said?

In a tweet on Tuesday, European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell said the elections in Belarus were “neither free nor fair.”

Click to play video: 'White House ‘deeply concerned’ by Belarus presidential election'
White House ‘deeply concerned’ by Belarus presidential election

“EU calls on #Belarus leadership to initiate genuine dialogue w/ broader society & stop unacceptable violence and crackdown on freedoms of assembly, media and expression,” he wrote.

He said the EU would conduct an “in-depth review” of its relations with Belarus.

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And on Friday, Borrell said work had begun on “sanctioning those responsible for violence and falsification.”

Speaking in Warsaw on Saturday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was discussing the situation with the EU.

He said Washington has been tracking the situation in Belarus hoped to “try to help as best we can the Belarusian people achieve sovereignty and freedom.”

Click to play video: 'Belarus police crackdown on protests after President Lukashenko expected to win election in a landslide'
Belarus police crackdown on protests after President Lukashenko expected to win election in a landslide

The United Nations (UN) has also condemned Belarusian authorities for the violence.

“People have the right to speak up and express dissent, even more in the context of the elections, when democratic freedoms should be upheld, not suppressed,” Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement issued Wednesday.

She said the arrests made during the protests were a “clear violation of international human rights standards.”

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What has Lukashenko said?

While Lukashenko has dismissed the protesters as “puppets,” he has urged police to refrain from using unnecessary force.

“If a person falls down and lies still, don’t beat him!” he said.

Lukashenko has also alleged that foreign agitators from Poland, the Netherlands, Ukraine and some members of Russia’s opposition were attending the protests.

“Do you want me to sit and wait until they turn Minsk upside down?” he said. “We won’t be able to stabilize the situation afterwards. We must take a break, collect ourselves and calm down. And let us restore order and deal with those who have come here.”

However, protesters say this isn’t true.

“Nobody believes these horror stories about external forces,” protester Galina Erema told The Associated Press. “We are tired of constant enemies and conspiracies, he usurped power and has not left for 26 years.”

“This is the reason for the protests.”

On Saturday Belarus state news agency Belta reported Lukashenko saying he did not need outside mediators to help solve the situation in Belarus.

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However, he noted Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to provide security if Belarus asked.

–With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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