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Belarusian opposition leader ‘safe’ in Lithuania as protesters, police clash in Minsk

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Aug. 10 (UPI) — Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has left the country and was safe in Lithuanian, the neighboring nation’s foreign minister said early Tuesday, as protests in Minsk continued for a second night against the re-election of authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

“Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is safe,” Lina Linkevicius, the foreign affairs minister for Lithuanian tweeted early Tuesday. “She is in Lithuania.”

Her campaign said she was attempting to avoid “possible provocations” as protests erupted following Sunday’s announcement by the election commission that Lukashenko, known as Europe’s last dictator, had won a sixth term at the country’s helm in a landslide victory.

Riot police wielded batons and fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse thousands of protesters in Minsk as Lukashenko warned on Monday that protesters would face a crackdown if they continued.

“Follow the law and then all these conversations about repression disappear,” said Lukashenko.

At least one protester has died in the confrontations with police, the Ministry of Interior said, stating an “unidentified explosive device” detonated in his hand, The New York Times reported.

Protesters took to the street Sunday night after the election commission announced Lukashenko had secured nearly 80% of the vote to Tikhanovskaya’s 6.8%.

Tikhanovskaya has rejected the tally, saying, “I believe my eyes and I see that the majority is with us.”

Amnesty International condemned the crackdown, saying its delegates in the capital have witnessed “appalling violence unleashed by riot police on peaceful protesters.”

“We deplore the increased levels of violence and renewed attacks on peaceful protesters in Minsk and other Belarusian cities,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in a statement. “The authorities must do everything they can to avoid further violence — this means fully respecting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.”

Viasna Human Rights Center in Minsk said it knows the names of about 300 of the 3,000 people who have been detained in the last few days. According to the rights ground, the Ministry of Health has said more than 50 protesters and 39 police officers have been injured.

NetBlocks, an Internet observatory, said in a blog post that Internet access in the European country has been “significantly disrupted” since the election and was ongoing as of Monday evening.

The crackdown follows human rights organizations condemning police violence and arbitrating arrests of peaceful protesters, journalists and bloggers in the run up to the Sunday vote, which has received widespread condemnation from Western nations.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the United States is “deeply concerned” about the Sunday election, describing it as neither free nor fair due to severe restrictions on ballot access, prohibitions on local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation employed against opposition candidates and the detention of protesters and journalists.

“We urge the Belarusian government to respect the rights of all Belarusians to participate in peaceful assembly, refrain from use of force and release those wrongfully detained,” Pompeo said in a statement. “We strongly condemn ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters as well as the use of internet shutdowns to hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations.”

Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, urged via Twitter for the fundamental rights of all Belarusian to be respected.

“Harassment & violent repression of peaceful protesters has no place in Europe,” she said. “I call on the Belarusian authorities to ensure that the votes in yesterday’s election are counted & published accurately.”

Andrzej Duda and Gitanas Nauseda, the presidents of Belarus’ neighbors Poland and Lithuanian respectively, also issued a joint statement calling for dialogue to create “favorable conditions” to foster a partnership between the Belarusian people and its state.

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