The main challenger in Belarus’ disputed election has called on President Alexander Lukashenko to relinquish power when police clashed with protesters in the capital Minsk and other cities for the second night in a row.
Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Monday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. More than 30 people were arrested, according to the news agency Reuters.
“I want change in my country. I am sick and tired. The Lukashenko dictatorship must be stopped,” a male protester told Al Jazeera correspondent Step Vaessen in Minsk.
“I want [to] living in a free country, I want my children to live in a free country. I want them to have a future, said another protester.
“I consider myself the winner”
At the same time, Lukashenko’s main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said she would not join the demonstrations to avoid any provocation to the protesters.
Tikhanovskaya, whose surprise candidacy was the biggest challenge for the veteran leader in several years, said Sunday’s presidential vote had been rigged and accused the authorities of taking action to hold on to power.
“The voters made their choice, but the authorities did not hear us,” the 37-year-old told a news conference after police used stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds across Belarus.
“The authorities should think about how they can peacefully hand over power to us,” she said. “I consider myself the winner of this election.”
Official results showed Lukashenko, in power for more than a quarter of a century, 80 percent of the vote, while Tikhanovskaya, a former English teacher who took part in the race after her blogger was arrested, took only 9.9 percent.
Foreign observers have not considered a free and fair election in Belarus since 1995, and at the end of the vote, authorities saw Lukashenko’s prison rivals and open criminal investigations by others who expressed opposition.
Germany called on the European Union to discuss sanctions against Belarus, which were raised in 2016 to promote better relations.
Belarus: Lukashenko wins elections damaged by protests
Russian President Vladimir Putin used a congratulatory telegram to fire Lukashenko to accept deeper ties between the two nations, which the Belarusian leader has previously dismissed as an attack on his country’s independence.
Tikhanovskaya, a stay-at-home mom, galvanized the opposition during the election campaign and attracted tens of thousands of supporters to the former Soviet country’s largest demonstrations in years.
The opposition now wants a vote on at polling stations where there were problems, said her aides and added that the protests would continue.
“There will be no revolution”
There is no immediate response to this offer from Lukashenko, a former Soviet public administrator who has kept Belarus under tight control since 1994.
He faces his biggest challenge in several years to hold on to power amid dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and human rights violations.
But Lukashenko signaled that he would not resign.
“The answer will be appropriate. We will not let the country be torn apart,” the 65-year-old leader of the Belta news agency was quoted as saying.
Mr Lukashenko has repeatedly accused shady forces abroad of trying to manipulate protesters he called “sheep” to overthrow him, something he said he would never allow.
“They are trying to orchestrate devastation,” Lukashenko said. “But I have already warned: there will be no revolution.”
Al Jazeera and news agencies