The opposition leader in Belarus called on the leaders of the European Union not to recognize the “fraudulent elections” that extended the mandate of its authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, and provoked massive protests without precedent in the country.
In a video statement released before bloc leaders hold an extraordinary summit on Wednesday to address the situation, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on Europe to support “the awakening of Belarus.”
“I ask you not to acknowledge these fraudulent elections. Mr. Lukashenko has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world, “Tsikhanouskaya said.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet nation of 9.5 million people with an iron fist since 1994, won his sixth reelection on August 9 with 80% of the vote, in an election widely considered rigged. Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher who unified a fractured opposition and attracted tens of thousands of followers, only got 10%.
Tsikhanouskaya called the results false and demanded a recount, but then he left the country suddenly and took refuge in neighboring Lithuania, a move that his campaign said was done under duress.
Earlier this week, the opposition leader said she was prepared to act as a national leader to facilitate a repeat of the elections, and her allies announced the formation of a “coordination council” to help form a platform for a peaceful transition.
Lukashenko repeatedly rejected requests for his resignation and was angered at the idea of holding talks with the opposition.
Hundreds of thousands of people have protested across the country since the elections. The mobilizations continued for 10 consecutive days despite brutal repression by the police, who in the first four days detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and bats. At least two protesters were killed.
The protests resumed on Wednesday morning in the capital Minsk, where police began detaining participants again. About 50 were arrested in front of the Minsk Tractor Plant, whose workers have been on strike since Monday, according to Sergei Dylevsky, leader of the factory’s strike committee.