Belarus president issues ominous warning to protesters - as Twitter reveals it's being 'shut down'

·4-min read

<p>There have been violent clashes between police and protesters after officials said Mr Lukashenko had won the presidential election with more than 80% of the vote - but critics said the poll was rigged.</p><p>In another night of demonstrations, a Reuters witness said tear gas had been used to disperse protesters in Minsk and the Belarusian interior ministry said a protester died in the capital after an explosive device blew up in his hand.</p> <p>Posting on its own site, Twitter wrote: "We're seeing blocking & throttling of Twitter in #Belarus in reaction to protests contesting the election result. #KeepItOn.</p><p>"Internet shutdowns are hugely harmful. They fundamentally violate basic human rights & the principles of the #OpenInternet."</p><p>US secretary of state Mike Pompeo criticised the use of internet shutdowns to "hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations".</p><p>He added that he condemned the violence against protesters and described the vote as "not free and fair".</p><p>Mr Lukashenko - who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation for 26 years - warned harsh measures will be taken against protesters, and already dozens have been injured and thousands detained.</p><p>He accused groups in Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Russia of directing the opposition protests.</p><p>"They are directing our sheep, who don't understand what they are doing," he said.</p><p>Rights activists said one person died after being run over by a police vehicle, but authorities have denied this.</p><p>A former Belarusian presidential candidate was among those calling for the international community to condemn the official election results.</p> <p>Andrei Sannikov, former deputy foreign minister of <strong><a href="" target="_blank">Belarus</a></strong>, said the outcome was not the result of a "free and fair election" and accused the European Union of "cowardly silence".</p><p>His comments came after Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki called for an emergency EU summit over the situation, saying the community must "support the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom".</p><p>Mr Sannikov said the authoritarian leader is now "more scared than ever" because he has seen that "other people have risen against him" and "despise him".</p> <p>"I would kindly request not to use the words that Lukashenko was elected," he said. "Lukashenko has committed yet another crime which is called high treason.</p><p>"There was never a free and fair election after 1994 when he truly was elected."</p><p>One-time opposition leader Mr Sannikov was jailed for five years in 2011 on charges of organising mass protests after he ran against Mr Lukashenko in 2010. Western monitors at the time had described the poll as "flawed".</p><p>Mr Sannikov now says opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is the "legally and rightful elected president of Belarus" and should be supported by the international community.</p> <p>But he criticised the European Union for not speaking up sooner on what was happening in Belarus.</p><p>"I'm not really hopeful and optimistic about the EU mechanism because they've been keeping really silent, I would say cowardly silent because the depression started months ago," he said.</p><p>"People are being tortured in prison and the European Union did nothing. Even the condemnations were very weak.</p><p>"That's why we need countries outside the EU to lead the way like the United Kingdom, like Norway, like United States, like Canada."</p><p>EU council president Charles Michel condemned police violence in Belarus, writing on Twitter: "Violence against protesters is not the answer #Belarus. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, basic human rights must be upheld."</p> <p>UK foreign office minister James Duddridge also called for the Belarusian government to stop the violence, following what he called a "seriously flawed" election.</p><p>German foreign minister Heiko Maas said the EU should discuss reimposing sanctions against Belarus.</p><p>He said the country had previously taken steps in the right direction, including releasing political prisoners, but "we must now discuss... whether this still applies in the light of the past week and the past days".</p>