Violence on the streets as "last dictator in Europe" claims victory in Belarus' elections

A night of violence erupted in Belarus as riot police cracked down on thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets to challenge the early result from Sunday’s presidential election indicating the longtime authoritarian leader won a sixth term by a landslide.

Hundreds of people were arrested in the capital Minsk and elsewhere according to a leading rights group. Ales Bilyatsky of the Viasna human rights group told The Associated Press (AP) several hundred were detained and hundreds injured in the police crackdown.

“What has happened is awful,” main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a former English teacher and political novice, told reporters on Sunday.

Tsikhanouskaya rejected the official claims, saying “I will believe my own eyes — the majority was for us.”

Belarusian journalist Franak Viačorka tweeted that Tsikhanouskaya had received as much as 85% of the vote from the country's expat community.

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An AP journalist was beaten by police and treated at a hospital, while three journalists from the independent Russian TV station Dozhd were detained after interviewing an opposition figure and were deported.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said that police efforts to restore order were continuing overnight, but would not confirm how many people were detained.

At Minsk’ Hospital No. 10, an AP reporter saw a dozen ambulances delivering protesters with fragmentation wounds and cuts from stun grenades and other injuries.

“It was a peaceful protest, we weren’t using force,” said 23-year-old protester, Pavel Konoplyanik, who was accompanying his friend who had a plastic grenade fragment stuck in his neck. “No one will believe in the official results of the vote, they have stolen our victory.”

Konoplyanik, whose legs were also cut by fragments of police grenades, said he doesn’t want to leave the country but fears that he might have no other choice.

Following arrests of allegedly Russian or Russian backed mercenaries in the country in the days leading up to the elections there are fears that the Kremlin will intervene, with a view to returning the small country to Russia's "sphere of influence".

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