Belarus opposition leader urges EU to support ‘awakening’ country

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on EU leaders not to recognise “fraudulent elections”. Credit: AP/Press Association Images

The Belarusian opposition leader has urged European leaders to support "the awakening of Beirut", as a coordination council formed by the opposition push for a new election.

In a video statement released ahead of Wednesday’s emergency summit of EU leaders, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on leaders not to recognise “fraudulent elections” that extended the rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

"Mr Lukashenko has lost all the legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” she said.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher who united fractured opposition groups and drew tens of thousands to rally in her support, got only 10%.

She dismissed the results as falsified and demanded a recount, but then suddenly left the country for Lithuania in a move her campaign said was made under duress.

Earlier this week she said she was ready to act as a national leader to facilitate a rerun of the election, and her associates announced the formation of a “co-ordination council” to help create a platform for a peaceful transition of power.

“I have initiated the national co-ordination council of Belarus. It will lead the process of a peaceful transition of power via dialogue. It will immediately call for new fair and democratic presidential elections with international supervision,” Ms Tsikhanouskaya said in the latest video statement.

Mr Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist since 1994, won his sixth term with 80% of votes in the August 9 election, but it was widely seen as rigged.

Alexander Lukashenko. Credit: Andrei Stasevich/AP

He repeatedly rejected demands to step down and bristled at the idea of talks with the opposition, denouncing the co-ordination council as a “an attempt to seize power”.

Mr Lukashenko blasted the opposition again on Wednesday for creating “alternative (government) bodies” and warned them they may be prosecuted for it.

“If someone thinks that the government bent down and teetered, you’re mistaken,” he said at a meeting with security officials. “We will not waver.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have protested in Belarus since August 9. The rallies have continued for 10 straight days despite a brutal response from the police, who in the first four days detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs. At least two protesters died.

Protesters in Minsk. Credit: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

This week, workers at several major industrial plants, including a huge factory that accounts for a fifth of the world’s potash fertiliser output, have started a strike demanding Mr Lukashenko resign.

Western officials refused to recognise the election as free or fair and criticised the violent crackdown.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK does not accept the result of the Belarus presidential election.

Mr Raab said the vote was “fraudulent” and condemned the violence from the Belarusian authorities as they attempted to crack down on the protests.

The EU is preparing a list of Belarus officials who could be blacklisted in Europe over their roles.

In a letter inviting leaders of the bloc to the teleconference, EU Council president Charles Michel said “what we have witnessed in Belarus is not acceptable”, adding that the “violence against peaceful protesters was shocking and has to be condemned. Those responsible must be held to account”.