Belarusian opposition leader calls for new protests and vote recount

MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Friday asked supporters to sign an online petition demanding a recount of last Sunday’s presidential election, in which she believes she was cheated out of victory.

In a video posted on YouTube, Tsikhanouskaya, who is in neighbouring Lithuania, also asked supporters to demand an official investigation into allegations that the election was falsified.

She called for an end to violence, which has surged in the wake of veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election, and asked all city mayors to organise peaceful gatherings this weekend.

The government on Friday began releasing thousands of detained protesters after issuing a rare public apology in an effort to quell the nationwide protests, which pose the biggest challenge to Lukashenko in his 26 years in power.

European Union foreign ministers meet later on Friday to discuss possible new sanctions on the Belarusian leadership after its harsh crackdown on post-election protests.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday demanded the unconditional and immediate release of detained demonstrators.

In her video, Tsikahnousakaya said: “We need to stop the violence on the streets of Belarusian cities. I call on the authorities to stop it and begin dialogue…

“I ask mayors of all cities, on Aug. 15 and 16, to act as the organisers of mass, peaceful gatherings in each city or town.”

At least two protesters have died and around 6,700 were detained this week in the crackdown.

Protesters said the fact that Lukashenko had been officially credited with 80% of votes in the election showed it had been massively rigged.

Lukashenko, a 65-year-old former Soviet collective farm manager, has faced increasing anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic – which he dismissed as a “psychosis” – as well as sluggish economy and human rights.

A new round of protests began on Friday morning as people formed human chains in Minsk. Local media reported discontent among workers at some big state-run companies – the pride of Lukashenko’s Soviet-style economic model.

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