Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on supporters to sign an online petition demanding a recount of the contested election results.
She also urged the international community to lend support as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets nationwide for the seventh day in a row.
In a video posted on YouTube from Lithuania, where she fled over concerns about the safety of her children, Ms Tsikhanouskaya said: “Belarusians will never again want to live with the old authorities.
“Let’s defend our choice. Don’t stay on the sidelines. Our voices need to be heard.”
Her call to action followed the release of around 2,000 detained protesters – and an apology from Belarus’s top law enforcement official for the excessive use of force by police.
Interior minister Yuri Karayev said: “I take responsibility for what they say was violence against those people, who happened to be nearby and failed to back off quickly enough.”
EU foreign ministers met on Friday to discuss the situation in Belarus, which since last weekend’s election has been facing one of the biggest political crises in its post-Soviet history.
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According to the official central election commission, longstanding leader Alexander Lukashenko won 80% of the vote, however the result has been rejected by the opposition.
Regarding the meeting of EU foreign ministers, Austria’s Alexander Schallenberg said they were “not discussing sanctions” despite being “extremely worried”.
His statement is at odds with an earlier tweet by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in which she called for “additional sanctions against those who violated democratic values or abused human rights in Belarus”.
She said: “I am confident today’s EU Foreign Ministers’ discussion will demonstrate our strong support for the rights of the people in Belarus to fundamental freedoms and democracy.”
Image: Minsk tractor plant employees rally in support of opposition protesters, who accuse Alexander Lukashenko of falsifying the polls
Several of the protesters who have been released were heavily bruised and complained of beatings, starvation rations and cramped conditions inside cells.
Alexander Vilks, a 19-year-old student, said: “There were people who came and said ‘let me beat someone, I haven’t beaten anyone all day’. Then they gave them truncheons and pointed out who could be beaten for no reason.”
Protesters calling for Mr Lukashenko’s resignation have been joined by workers at some of the state-owned industrial factories that are central to his Soviet-style economic system.
Several television presenters and journalists from the tightly controlled state media resigned this week in solidarity.
Lukashenko not legitimate, says Lithuanian president
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The official results said Mr Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and Ms Tsikhanouskaya only 10%.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya – a 37-year-old former English teacher who took her husband’s place in the election campaign after he was imprisoned – has now led the biggest ever challenge to the president’s 26-year reign of power.
Source : Sky News