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Media captionPeople have been detained in cities across Belarus, according to media reports

Protesters and riot police have clashed in Belarus’s capital Minsk and other cities, after a state TV exit poll said long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected in Sunday’s election.

Police used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon. A human rights group said one protester was killed and about 120 arrested.

Mr Lukashenko won 80% of the vote, according to a preliminary count.

But the main opposition leader has refused to recognise the results.

“We have already won, because we have overcome our fear, our apathy and our indifference,” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said.

The preliminary results give her 9.9% of the vote, but her campaign said she had been polling 70-80% in some areas.

Ms Tikhanovskaya entered the election in place of her jailed husband and went on to lead large opposition rallies.

Mr Lukashenko, 65, has been in power since 1994.

The lead-up to Sunday’s poll saw a crackdown on activists and journalists amid the country’s biggest opposition demonstrations in years.

How did the protests unfold?

Demonstrators took to the streets in central Minsk as soon as voting ended and the exit polls were released late on Sunday.

Many chanted “Get out” and other anti-government slogans. Riot police fired stun grenades, used batons, and made arrests as they dispersed the demonstrators.

Image copyright
Reuters

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Protesters say President Lukashenko must step down

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Reuters

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A number of people were arrested on Sunday evening

Early on Monday, Valentin Stefanovic from the Belarusian human rights group Viasna, told Reuters news agency that at least one person had died after being knocked over by a police van and dozens had been injured.

He added that at least 120 people had been detained.

However, the interior ministry denied that there had been any deaths.

Similar protests took place in Brest, Gomel, Grodno and other cities.

What’s the context?

Sometimes referred to as Europe’s last dictator, President Lukashenko was first elected in 1994.

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EPA

Image caption

Mr Lukashenko cast his ballot at a polling station in Minsk

In the last vote in 2015, he was declared winner with 83.5% of the vote. There were no serious challengers and election observers reported problems in the counting and tabulation of votes.

This year’s election is being held amid growing signs of frustration at his leadership.

Image copyright
EPA

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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has emerged as the wild card of the race

The campaign saw the rise of Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, a former teacher who became a stay-at-home mother until she was thrust into the political spotlight.

After her husband was arrested and blocked from registering for the vote, she stepped in to take his place.

In the lead-up to the election she told the BBC that people in Belarus did not believe the election would be run fairly.

“But I still believe that our president will understand that his time is over. People don’t want him any more,” she said.

President Lukashenko has dismissed Ms Tikhanovskaya as a “poor little girl”, manipulated by foreign “puppet masters”.

Tens of thousands defied an escalating crackdown on the opposition last month to attend a protest in Minsk, the largest such demonstration in a decade.

Since the start of the election campaign in May, more than 2,000 people have been detained, according to Human Rights Centre Viasna.

On the eve of the vote Ms Tikhanovskaya’s team said her campaign manager had been arrested and would not be released until Monday.

And on Sunday, as people voted, internet service was “significantly disrupted”, according to online monitor NetBlocks. Opposition supporters say this makes it harder for evidence of election fraud to be collected and shared.

There were already concerns over a lack of scrutiny because observers were not invited to monitor the election and more than 40% of votes were cast ahead of election day.

Was anyone else running?

There were three other candidates:

Two key opposition figures were barred from running and threw their weight behind Ms Tikhanovskaya’s campaign.

One of them, Valery Tsepkalo, fled Belarus ahead of the contest, fearing arrest. His wife Veronika stayed behind, becoming a key campaigner for Ms Tikhanovskaya.

It emerged on Sunday that Ms Tsepkalo had also now left Belarus for Moscow, for “safety” reasons.

Anger towards Mr Lukashenko’s government has been in part fuelled by the response to coronavirus.

The president has downplayed the outbreak, advising citizens to drink vodka and use saunas to fight the disease.

Belarus, which has a population of 9.5 million, has reported nearly 70,000 cases and 600 deaths.



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A Tory MP Has Branded His Government’s Decision On Trans Rights A “Crushing Disappointment”

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Trade Secretary and Women and Equalities minister Liz Truss (Credit: PA)


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A Tory MP has branded the government’s decision to row back on plans to reform transgender rights “a crushing disappointment”.

Crispin Blunt tabled an urgent question in the Commons on Thursday after ministers dropped plans to allow trans people to self-identify under reforms to the Gender Recognition Act,.

He said women and equalities minister Liz Truss, who is also the trade secretary, had presented MPs with “an inherently unstable settlement that will have to be addressed hopefully sooner rather than later” and that delays in its release had contributed to upset in the trans community.

“Does she appreciate that trans people cannot discern any strong or coherent reason for this screeching change of direction?” he added.

“Does she understand the anger at the prospect of them receiving their fundamental rights being snatched away?

“The longer this uncertainty has been allowed to continue, the worse the fear and anger have become.”

The Conservative backbencher said the contrast in both Ms Truss’s reputation across her twin briefs and her work on equalities compared to that of her predecessor Penny Mordaunt was “horribly stark”. 

“I welcome and enjoy the dynamism of my right honourable friend, that she brings to her unprecedented historic responsibilities in retaking control of British trade policy after nearly half a century,” he said.

“The command of technical, economic and legal detail required is at once intimidating and inspiring. As a great trading nation, it commands all her attention and she has risen to the trade challenge.

“The prime minister has done her, and the nation, no favours by continuing to overburden her after the election at such an extraordinary time for trade.”

He added: “Does she see that the underlying trend of the majority of people in this country is following the path set by a change of attitude in society a generation earlier towards those with different sexualities?

“And the vast majority, the vast, vast majority of LGBT people will stand in solidarity with trans people. Does she appreciate that this statement does not command a majority in this House?”

But fellow Tory MP Ben Bradley defended Ms Truss, accusing Mr Blunt of being “way out on a limb”.

He wrote on Twitter: [In my opinion], most colleagues welcome the compromise where can make things administratively easier for trans people, whilst still taking a good look at the implications of education, healthcare and treatments.”

He added that Ms Truss had found a “fair balance” in her response, and that any issues with the approach stems from the “previous administration massively overpromising” on potential changes to the process.

Under the government’s plans, the need for a Gender Recognition Certificate for a person to legally change sex will remain the same, but the process will be “modernised” and the cost reduced.

Ms Truss said the government is “also taking action to ensure transgender people can access the appropriate healthcare they need”.

Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, Marsha de Cordova, said minsters had “let trans people down…after three years of toxic debate”.

Ms Truss said she believed the “right conclusion” had been reached to ensure “proper checks and balances” in the system and that the government’s proposals were “in line with other major nations”.

“We believe in individual liberty and in the humanity and dignity of every person,” she added.

“It is my view that the balance struck in the existing legislation is correct.”

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Dreamworld accident: Australian theme park fined over four deaths

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image copyrightAlamy

image caption(L-R) Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozbeh Araghi and Cindy Low died in 2016

The operator of Australia’s Dreamworld theme park has been fined A$3.6m (£2m; $2.5m) over the deaths of four people on a malfunctioning water ride.

Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozbeh Araghi and Cindy Low died in October 2016 when their raft crashed into another and overturned, crushing them.

Park operator Ardent Leisure admitted in July to breaching safety laws.

The company said it accepted responsibility and had worked to improve safety standards.

The four victims – all adults – died almost instantly after the Thunder River Rapids Ride rafts collided, an inquiry heard in 2018. Two children were also on board but survived.

The accident at Australia’s biggest theme park was caused by a pump that malfunctioned near the end of the ride.

On Monday, a court said the company had failed in its duty of care and should have taken steps to make the ride safer.

“Steps were not that complex or burdensome and only mildly inconvenient and really were inexpensive,” Magistrate Pamela Dowse said.

“They operated the most iconic amusement park in the country, which targeted and attracted families.

“There was complete and blind trust placed in the defendant by every guest who rode the Thunder River Rapids Ride.”

image copyrightCORONERS COURT OF QUEENSLAND
image captionThe raft carrying passengers flipped in the collision

The size of the fine reflected the severity of the company’s failure, she added. Ardent had been facing a maximum A$4.5m fine.

Chief executive John Osborne said: “Ardent accepts responsibility for this tragedy, and we fully accept the consequences.”

Families of the victims also delivered statements to the sentencing court on Monday, expressing grief and anger over their loss.

  • Australia theme park admits guilt over ride deaths

“That Cindy died violently is unacceptable to us,” said Helen Cook, aunt to Ms Low. “Knowing her death could have been avoided is unacceptable and infuriating.”

In February, a coroner found the accident had been “only a matter of time” as the theme park had not properly assessed the ride’s safety risk in over 30 years.

Dreamworld briefly shut down for six weeks after the accident in 2016, during which it demolished the ride.

The company has reported operating losses every year since the accident, including more than A$260m in losses in its theme park division.

It is also fighting a class action from shareholders who claim the company misled them on the park’s safety measures.

Related Topics

  • Theme parks

  • Queensland
  • Australia

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Swiss voters clearly reject curbs on EU immigration

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The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) had forced a binding referendum on the EU agreement in a bid to curb immigration to the country where foreigners make up a quarter of the population.

The measure lost by 62%-38% margin.

The SVP – the biggest party in parliament – has long pushed to take back control of immigration, echoing some arguments pro-Brexit politicians used in the run-up to Britain’s exit from the EU. It won a referendum on the issue in 2014, only to see parliament water down its implementation.

Opponents said the plan would have robbed business of skilled workers and torpedoed accords that enhance non-EU member Switzerland’s access to the crucial EU single market.

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, the referendum could have forced the government to annul the EU agreement if negotiations did not produce a deal on ending the pact voluntarily, something Brussels has ruled out.

A “guillotine clause” meant that ending free movement would have toppled other bilateral pacts on land and air transport, procurement, technical barriers to trade, and research.

Around two-thirds of the 2.1 million foreigners living in Switzerland in 2019 were citizens of the EU, as well as Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which with Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

More than 450,000 Swiss live in the EU.

The domestic political battle immediately turned to Switzerland’s biggest foreign policy headache: a stalled treaty meant to cement ties with the EU but which critics say infringes too much on Swiss sovereignty and would never win a referendum.

The treaty would have Bern routinely adopt single market rules and create a new platform to resolve disputes.

With questions open over state aid, rules to protect high Swiss wages, and access to welfare benefits, the Swiss have dragged their feet while trying to forge a domestic consensus, triggering a row over cross-border stock trading.

Amid relatively high turnout, voters narrowly blocked an attempt to make it easier to shoot wolves deemed a threat to livestock.

In an unexpectedly close vote, they approved the government’s plans to buy new fighter jets for up to 6 billion Swiss francs ($6.46 billion).

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