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Protests continued on Monday for a second night

The main challenger to Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko has refused to accept the autocratic president won 80% of the vote in Sunday’s election.

“I consider myself the winner of this election,” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said.

A lack of scrutiny, with no observers present, has led to allegations of widespread vote-rigging in the poll.

For a second night, police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in the capital Minsk, eyewitnesses say. One journalist was reportedly injured.

About 30 people were arrested in the capital. One witness said they saw police officers with truncheons beat protesters.

Polish-based broadcaster Belsat TV said several metro stations in the capital had been closed and the internet was still mostly unavailable.

Protests were also being held in other Belarusian cities.

It comes after the state security agency said it had thwarted an attempt on Ms Tikhanovskaya’s life. It gave no further details.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said he “tried to reach Svetlana Tikhanovskaya for several hours”.

“Her whereabouts not known even to her staff. Concerned about her safety,” Mr Linkevicius tweeted.

1597094271 761 Belarus election Opposition disputes Lukashenko landslide win

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Media captionPeople detained in cities across Belarus on Sunday, according to media reports

The election was held amid growing frustration at Mr Lukashenko’s leadership, with opposition rallies attracting large crowds. The preceding days saw a crackdown on activists and journalists.

The president, who has been in power since 1994, has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from abroad, and vowed not to allow the country to be “torn apart”.

Mr Lukashenko won 80.23% of the vote, according to election officials, with Ms Tikhanovskaya receiving 9.9%.

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

What did Ms Tikhanovskaya say?

The opposition candidate said that the election results published on Monday morning “completely contradict common sense” and the authorities should think about how to peacefully hand over power.

“We have seen that the authorities are trying to hold on to their positions by force,” she said.

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Ms Tikhanovskaya says she wants the authorities to hand over power

“No matter how much we asked authorities not to turn on their own people, we were not listened to.”

Her campaign said it would challenge “numerous falsifications” in the vote.

“The election results announced by the Central Electoral Commission do not correspond to reality and completely contradict common sense,” her spokeswoman Anna Krasulina said.

But Mr Lukashenko poured scorn on Ms Tikhanovskaya’s comments.

“So Lukashenko, who is at the top of the power structure and at the head of the state, after getting 80% of the vote must voluntarily hand over power to them,” the president said. “The orders are coming from over there [abroad].”

“Our response will be robust,” he added. “We will not allow the country to be torn apart.”

What has the international reaction been?

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his Belarusian counterpart on his victory, despite friction over accusations of a Russian plot which Mr Lukashenko has tried to link to the opposition.

The leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Azerbaijan have sent messages of support.

But the German government said it had “strong doubts” about the election and that minimum standards were not met.

The US said it was “deeply concerned” by the election and urged the government to “respect the right to peacefully assemble and to refrain from the use of force”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the election results to be published.

“Harassment and violent repression of peaceful protesters has no place in Europe,” she said.

What happened in Sunday’s protests?

Demonstrators took to the streets in central Minsk as soon as voting ended. Many chanted “Get out” and other anti-government slogans.

Police used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon.

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Reuters

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Protesters have been calling for Mr Lukashenko to step down

Reports from a human rights group that a man had died proved to be untrue.

However, social media footage showed a man who had clung to the front of a police truck lose his grip as it accelerated, hitting his head.

The interior ministry said 50 civilians and 39 police were injured.

Three thousand people were arrested, the ministry added. About one-third of them were in Minsk, and the rest in other cities such as Brest, Gomel and Grodno where similar protests took place.

What’s the context?

President Lukashenko was first elected in 1994.

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EPA

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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.

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.

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

On the eve of the election 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 the election.

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.

Anger towards Mr Lukashenko’s government has been in part fuelled by its 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 almost 600 deaths.



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Dreamworld accident: Australian theme park fined over four deaths

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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.

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  • 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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Pelosi begins mustering Democrats for possible House decision on presidency

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Pelosi, in a Sunday letter to House Democrats, urged them to consider whether the House might be pulled into deciding who is president when determining where to focus resources on winning seats in November. This could lead to more concerted efforts by Democrats to win in states such as Montana and Alaska — typically Republican turf but where Democrats have been competitive statewide. In these states, Democratic victories could flip an entire delegation with a single upset House victory.

“The Constitution says that a candidate must receive a majority of the state delegations to win,” Pelosi wrote. “We must achieve that majority of delegations or keep the Republicans from doing so.”

Pelosi has also raised the issue repeatedly in recent weeks with her leadership team. Other senior House Democrats told POLITICO they’d heard about these concerns from colleagues in recent weeks.

“We’re trying to win every seat in America, but there are obviously some places where a congressional district is even more important than just getting the member into the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional lawyer.

Trump, too, has taken notice of the obscure constitutional resolution to a deadlocked Electoral College, both in public and private.

“And I don’t want to end up in the Supreme Court and I don’t want to go back to Congress either, even though we have an advantage if we go back to Congress — does everyone understand that?” Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday. “I think it’s 26 to 22 or something because it’s counted one vote per state, so we actually have an advantage. Oh, they’re going to be thrilled to hear that.”

In private, Trump has discussed the possibility of the presidential race being thrown into the House as well, raising the issue with GOP lawmakers, according to Republican sources.

Under the Constitution, the winner of the presidential election isn’t officially chosen until Congress certifies the Electoral College vote total on Jan. 6, 2021. That vote comes several days after the newly elected Congress is sworn in, meaning the delegation totals will change to reflect the winners of House races in November.

If neither Biden nor Trump has secured the 270 electoral votes required to win, the newly seated House delegations will then cast votes to determine a winner. States whose delegations reach a tie vote are not counted.

But it’s more than a math equation. If the House is asked to resolve an Electoral College stalemate, the country will be witnessing one of harshest exercises of raw power in history. If Democrats retain control of the House, they could opt against seating potential members whose elections remain contested, even if state officials say otherwise.

An informal whip count has already begun. Democrats hold a one- or two-vote seat edge in seven states that are expected to feature at least one sharply contested House race: Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire. Republicans hold a similarly tenuous edge in Florida. The Alaska and Montana at-large seats are held by Republicans, meaning a Democrat would change the delegation’s vote in a presidential tally.

Pennsylvania’s House delegation is split evenly between the parties, but Democrats are expected to pick up seats after a redistricting that blunted some GOP advantages. Michigan is a wildcard as well, despite the slight Democratic edge in the delegation makeup. Amash, an independent who supported Trump’s impeachment, is retiring, with his seat likely to go to a Republican Trump ally who would leave the delegation deadlocked.

A Democratic Party strategist said the party apparatus was still primarily focused on protecting Democrats in vulnerable districts. But winning state delegations is also on the radar — especially in states where the efforts align.

“It is fair to say that this is something that folks have been thinking about,” the strategist said. “There is a great deal of overlap like Alaska, Montana.”

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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