Crowds of protesters demanding an end to the rule of ‘Europe’s last dictator’ clashed with police on the streets of Belarus last night.
The clashes came after state-approved exits polls claimed Alexander Lukashenko had won a landslide victory to retain the presidency he has held since 1994.
Outraged opposition supporters came out in their thousands to demonstrate in disbelief that the repressive strongman had secured 79.7 per cent of the vote, as according to the official figures.
Police fired stun grenades at the crowds of people who had taken to the streets of capital city Minsk.
Protesters clapped, honked their car horns and shouted ‘victory’ in solidarity with the opposition.
Lukashenko, who was a collective farm manager under the Soviets, has repeatedly come under fire for his record on human rights through his five terms of office.
More recently he has been targeted for his cavalier attitude to the Covid-19 pandemic which he dismissed as a case of mass ‘psychosis’.
The 65-year-old leader has suggested that the virus could be staved off by drinking vodka and spending time in saunas.
Critics had hoped he would be succeeded by former English teacher Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who seemed to hvae posed the biggest threat to his leadership in years.
The mother-of-two only entered the race after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, an anti-government blogger who had intended to run himself, was jailed.
But exit polls indicated Ms Tikhanouskaya had received just 6.8 per cent of the vote.
She cast doubt over the fairness of the election after more than 1,300 activists and journalists were detained in the lead-up to Sunday.
Referring to the crowds of people chanting her name, she said last night: ‘I believe my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us.’
Military vehicles, soldiers and police patrolled Minsk yesterday while the internet went down in an apparent attempt to disrupt opposition social media communications.
A government official claimed that no protesters had been injured.