The Belarusian Central Elections Committee (CEC) on Friday announced its final results, giving embattled President Alexander Lukashenko 80.1% of the vote and opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.1%.
Opposition groups claim the election was marred by fraud to keep Lukashenko in power, and protests began after exit polls showed Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, had won by a landslide.
Tikhanovskaya on Friday called for city mayors to organize peaceful protests this weekend, and asked her supporters to sign an online petition demanding a vote recount, with the presence of independent observers.
Lukashenko’s government had already been accused of responding to the protests with disproportionate force and violence, but the accusations of mistreating people behind bars has prompted renewed public outrage toward the government.
A woman named Olesya told CNN that she was arrested Sunday while walking down the street alongside her boyfriend in the capital, Minsk.
She said she was forced to strip naked alongside other women before being searched at a detention center. Olesya, who declined to give her last name for safety reasons, said she was then put in a small cell with 17 other women. All of them were given one water bottle and no food and forced to sleep on the floor or a small table.
The guards periodically cut off their access to water to silence them. They also denied medical assistance to one of the women, who had been injured by a rubber bullet.
Olesya said she spent around 14 hours inside the facility and was released after being forced to sign a paper with what she says were false charges against her. However, her boyfriend is still missing. She is very worried because men appear to be treated much worse than women, according to witness accounts.
“They would put four men in a 1.5 meter (5 foot) wide cell, three were standing but they made the fourth one crawl inside like a dog and stand on his knees,” said Olesya.
Olesya said she keeps coming back to the detention center both to get information about her partner and help others.
“It was very scary to wait outside, we could hear how they were beaten, they wailed, they screamed,” she said. “They stormed out of there with crazy eyes and half-conscious … they just ran in whatever direction the guards told them to and also told them not to approach us, who could help them get home, threatening they would put them back into prison.”
Authorities release 2,000 people
Belarus authorities have now released more than 2,000 people detained amid the ongoing protests, according to a Friday statement from its interior ministry.
The authorities were “concerned about the problem of overcrowding in places of detention,” the statement said. It suggested more people would be released. “We understand that it is not as fast as we would like. We are doing everything we can to resolve this situation,” the statement said.
Officials in Belarus say 6,700 people have been arrested and at least one person has been killed in the violent aftermath of Sunday’s presidential election which independent observers have criticized as neither free nor fair.
The interior ministry statement said Thursday was the “calmest day” this week with mostly peaceful protests.
At the Okrestina detention center in Minsk, hundreds have been gathering the past two days trying to locate their relatives and friends who were detained during the protests. Some were missing for days, according to people interviewed by CNN, as the authorities often do not disclose the location of detainees and forbid passing food, water or medication.
Ivan, who also did not wish to disclose his last name, told CNN that while he was searching for a friend at the detention center early Thursday, he witnessed a young man with broken arm and leg leave the building.
“People are being beaten up, tortured from the moment when they are detained in the streets,” Ivan said. “Then they are taken to local police station, beaten there and then they bring them here after a day or two, and the beatings and torture continue.”
Several other people have shared similar accounts of mistreatment while in government custody. Reports and pictures showing injuries sustained by the detainees have also appeared on social media. The Belarusian Association of Journalists said in a statement it recorded dozens of cases of violence against journalists, while several remain in detention.
The Russian independent news outlet Znak.com published an account by one of its journalists, Nikita Telizhenko, who reported in Minsk and said he had spent 16 hours detained with multiple protesters grabbed from the streets who were forced to lie face down in pools of blood, with some men stacked on top of another.
“The most brutal beatings were happening all around: hits, screams, cries and shrieks coming from everywhere,” Telizhenko said. “I felt that some of the detained had broken bones — hands, legs, spines — because with the tiniest bit of movement they wailed in pain.”
Telizhenko says he was eventually released after an intervention from the Russian Embassy, which helped release and repatriate several journalists back to Russia.
Opposition leader calls for peaceful protests
“The results of the elections were approved by the decision of the commission,” said a statement on the official CEC website on Friday. “Alexander Grigorievich Lukashenko was elected President of the Republic of Belarus.”
Tikhanovskaya, who fled Belarus to Lithuania this week under what her associates said was pressure from Belarusian authorities, rejected the results and demanded a recount.
In a video statement posted Friday, Tikhanovskaya said: “We the supporters of change are the majority. There is documentary evidence of this … Where the commissions counted the votes honestly, my support ranged from 60 to 70%, and in Novaya Borovaya [neighborhood] 90%.”
“I ask all the mayors of the cities on August 15 and 16 to act as organizers of peaceful mass meetings in each city. New forms of peaceful protests appear on the streets of our cities, the chains of solidarity of women with flowers are absolutely not belligerent, they show the whole world that we, Belarusians, are open, honest people and we are against violence,” she added.
Tikhanovskaya announced she will create a coordination council with the hope of transferring power in Belarus, according to a statement on her party’s official Telegram channel.
The candidate is “ready for dialogue with the authorities,” the statement said, and has instructed her associates to accept applications for the nomination of Council members from organizations and associations of citizens.
“I ask you to join the coordination council. We really need your help and experience. We need your connections, contacts, expert advice and support. This coordinating council should include everyone who is interested in dialogue and the peaceful transfer of power — labor collectives, parties, trade unions and other civil society organizations,” Tikhanovskaya said in the statement
The opposition politician also appealed to the international community to and European countries to help organize a dialogue with the Belarus authorities.
In a statement on Twitter on Friday, Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “We need additional sanctions against those who violated democratic values or abused human rights in Belarus.”
She added, “I am confident today’s EU Foreign Ministers’ discussion will demonstrate our strong support for the rights of the people in Belarus to fundamental freedoms & democracy.”
The country’s Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said in a Friday statement that Belarus was ready for a “constructive and objective dialogue” with foreign partners regarding the disputed election result, after a call with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis.
“The Belarusian side noted its readiness for a constructive and objective dialogue with foreign partners on all issues related to the development of events in Belarus during the election campaign and after its completion,” the foreign ministry statement said.
The call was made “at the initiative of the Swiss side,” the statement adds.
Makei also expressed “gratitude” to the Swiss Foreign Minister, “for ensuring security and order during voting at the polling station at the Belarusian Embassy in Switzerland.”
Change of tactics
Despite the brutal crackdowns, the opposition has shown no sign of backing down. But it has changed strategy and tactics.
Thousands of mainly female peaceful demonstrators clutching white flowers and balloons lined the streets of Minsk Thursday as part of a more decentralized protest. Across the country, women are forming so-called “solidarity chains” to demand an end to the violence and that those detained be released. White ribbons, bracelets and shirts have become symbols of the movement, a color that initially representing the peacefulness of protesters and later morphed to reflect the old Belarusian flag — white with a red stripe — which can be seen hanging from many windows in the city.
One chain of protesters in Minsk was almost two miles (3.2 kilometers) long. Cars passing by often honked to show their support.
During an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Maria Kolesnikova — the last of the three women who became the faces of the country’s opposition still in the country — wore a white suit as she said she believed that the clashes over the disputed elections results signal the decline of Lukashenko’s presidency.
The trio — Kolesnikova, Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo — joined forces to take on Lukashenko in the election after several opposition candidates were either barred from running or jailed. Lukashenko dismissed the trio as “poor girls” in his annual state of the union address last week, and said he would not “give the country away.”
But the women appeared to enjoy significant support. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign rallies saw significant turnouts even in small Belarusian towns not known for their protest activity. About 63,000 people attended the largest event in Minsk in July — making it the biggest demonstration in the past decade.
The independent monitoring group “Honest People” said that according to its data, Tikhanovskaya — who was standing in for her jailed husband — had won in at least 80 polling stations across Belarus in Sunday’s vote, prompting many to demand a recount.
Tikhanovskaya and Tsepkalo say they were forced out of Belarus after the election because of threats from the government. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign told CNN on Sunday that nine people associated with the campaign had been arrested, and her decision to leave was made in part to free her peers.
‘I’m not a bloodthirsty person’
Lukashenko claimed earlier this week the protests were initiated by “foreign puppeteers” adding that the law enforcement will not back down and maintained he still enjoys widespread support.
However, the allegations of torture appear to have fueled public anger toward the government.
On Thursday, thousands gathered in Zhodzina, a town around 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside of Minsk, where one of the main detentions is located. Videos from the event showed people chant “Release!” and “Leave!” — a chant evidently directed at Lukashenko.
Some of the country’s military and police officers also appear to be turning against Lukashenko and showing support for the opposition. A video posted on Instagram by a man named Evgeny Novitski shows his brother — a former special forces officer — throwing his uniform into a trash can, saying he is not proud of his job anymore.
“Hi all! I gave an oath to my people, and looking at what’s happening in Minsk right now, I can’t be proud of where I’ve been serving, and so, I can no longer keep this uniform at home,” the former officer says.
Another video posted by Belarusian TV station Nexta, shows a police officer named Ivan Kolos saying he refuses to follow “criminal orders.” He urged his colleagues to not point guns at peaceful people and be with them instead. He said he would take orders from Tikhanovskaya, not from Lukashenko.
The growing outcry has some prompted Belarusian authorities apologize late Thursday, a reversal from their previous rhetoric promising a severe response to protesters.
“I want to take full responsibility and apologize in a humane way to these people … I’m not a bloodthirsty person and I don’t want any violence,” Belarusian Interior Minister Yuri Karaev said in an interview with a state TV channel ONT.
Karaev also addressed the use of force against journalists by saying he is “against any violence against journalists, but this does not mean that you need to climb between the two sides, do not go into the thick of it!”
Lukashenko’s longtime ally and speaker of the Belarus senate Natalya Kochanova also came out with a televised statement on the President’s behalf urging Belarusians to “stop” and “cease self-destruction.”
“Less than a week ago, presidential elections were held in the Republic of Belarus. The people made their choice. But everything that happened next is an unprecedented attempt to destroy what we have always been proud of — our peaceful life,” Kochanova said.
“We all don’t need a fight, we don’t need a war. Minsk has always been quiet and calm,” Kochanova said. “The President heard the opinion of labor collectives and instructed to investigate all the facts of detentions that have occurred in recent days. Intensive work in underway today already more than a thousand people have been released under the obligation not to participate in unauthorized events.”
CNN’s Joshua Berlinger, Emma Reynolds and Isabel Tejera contributed to this report.
Rubio calls Biden’s national security team ‘polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline’
In recent days Biden has announced plans to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of State and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — jobs whose occupants require Senate confirmation. The president-elect has also named Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser, a White House role on which the Senate has no say.
Blinken, Thomas-Greenfield and Sullivan join a handful of other high-profile nominees — former Secretary of State John Kerry among them — who have thus far been light on surprises and heavy on experienced hands and veterans of the Obama administration. Biden has not yet announced his pick for Defense secretary, a centerpiece of the national security apparatus, despite widespread speculation that the job would go to Michèle Flournoy.
Rubio ran for president in 2016 and remains one of the GOP’s highest-profile lawmakers. The Florida senator, a child of Cuban immigrants, has been especially vocal on issues related to foreign policy, and his concern about the U.S. relationship with China dovetails with one of the Trump administration’s basic international relations tenets.
Biden has vowed to counter China’s growing influence on the world stage while breaking from President Donald Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign affairs — especially with regard to the United States’ traditional allies, whom Trump at times has alienated and cajoled.
But the president-elect has to walk a fine line with his choices for administration posts that need Senate approval given the razor-thin margins in the chamber and the likelihood that nominees will need to garner Republican support to win confirmation. Some Republican senators have recently indicated a willingness to sign off on Biden’s Cabinet selections — while warning they will sink nominees they believe to be out of the political mainstream — potentially defusing what would be an early standoff in Biden’s presidency.
The Finance Watchdog Says There’s “Evidence” Neither Ministers Or Businesses Are “Fully Prepared” For Brexit
3 min read
The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned there is “evidence” that ministers and businesses are not prepared for “imminent changes” to the economy from Brexit.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come under fire for failing to mention the potential impact of Brexit on the nation’s finances during the spending review, despite the OBR warning a no-deal outcome was a “material risk”.
The watchdog, which modelled a 11.3% contraction of the economy, said the figures were based on a presumption that ministers would strike a free trade deal with Brussels ahead of the 31 December deadline.
But it said the “unresolved nature” of the talks meant that “other outcomes are possible, including that no agreement is reached and the UK defaults to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms from 1 January 2021.”
The finance watchdog concluded that under that scenario the UK’s GDP would be reduced by a further 2% in 2021, “due to various temporary disruptions to cross-border trade and the knock-on impacts”.
It added: “As these abate, the longer-term effects of lower trade instensity continue to build such that output is 1.5% lower than our central forecast after five years, and 2% lower in the long run…”
The analysis also found that a no-deal scenario would see borrowing likely rise by a further 0.5% of GDP from 2021-22.
And under its worst case scenario, which would also see vaccines failing to control the pandemic, the OBR predicted the additional impacts of a no-deal would lead to national debt reaching 126.3% of GDP by 2025-26.
“The degree of near-term disruption to economic activity associated with defaulting to WTO terms depend in part upon the preparedness of the Government and businesses to manage any additional administrative, regulatory, and customs requirements,” the report said.
“While both have had more time to prepare than when we last considered these issues in our [earlier report], they have also been distracted by the need to deal with the disruption caused by the virus.
“This is likely to have taken up personnel and resources at some businesses that would have otherwise been used to prepare for a no deal Brexit, while also running down cash reserves and inventories making them more vulnerable to shocks,” it went on.
Meanwhile, pointing to work carried out by business groups, the OBR said there was “evidence” that ministers and businesses were still not prepared for Brexit related disruption, even if a deal is signed.
The watchdog added: “We continue to assume that the UK and EU conclude a free-trade agreement (FTA) and that there is a smooth transition to the new trading relationship after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. However, there is evidence that neither the government nor businesses are fully prepared for the imminent changes even if a deal is agreed.”
Hitting out at Mr Sunak’s failure to address Brexit during his economic update, shadow chancellor Anneliesse Dodds, said: “In less than 40 days, we’re due to leave the transition period. Yet the chancellor didn’t even mention that in his speech.
“There’s still no trade deal. So does the chancellor truly believe that his government is prepared and that he’s done enough to help those businesses that will be heavily affected?”
Diego Maradona: Argentina legend dies aged 60
Football legend Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players of all time, has died at the age of 60.
The former Argentina attacking midfielder and manager suffered a heart attack at his Buenos Aires home.
He had successful surgery on a brain blood clot earlier in November and was to be treated for alcohol dependency.
Maradona was captain when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, scoring the famous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarter-finals.
Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi paid tribute to Maradona, saying he was “eternal”.
“A very sad day for all Argentines and football,” said Messi. “He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.
“I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I send my condolences to all his family and friends.”
In a statement on social media, the Argentine Football Association expressed “its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend”, adding: “You will always be in our hearts.”
Declaring three days of national mourning, Alberto Fernandez, the president of Argentina, said: “You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of them all.
“Thank you for having existed, Diego. We’re going to miss you all our lives.”
Maradona played for Barcelona and Napoli during his club career, winning two Serie A titles with the Italian side. He started his career with Argentinos Juniors, also playing for Sevilla, and Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys in his homeland.
He scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina, representing them in four World Cups.
Maradona led his country to the 1990 final in Italy, where they were beaten by West Germany, before captaining them again in the United States in 1994, but was sent home after failing a drugs test for ephedrine.
During the second half of his career, Maradona struggled with cocaine addiction and was banned for 15 months after testing positive for the drug in 1991.
He retired from professional football in 1997, on his 37th birthday, during his second stint at Argentine giants Boca Juniors.
Having briefly managed two sides in Argentina during his playing career, Maradona was appointed head coach of the national team in 2008 and left after the 2010 World Cup, where his side were beaten by Germany in the quarter-finals.
He subsequently managed teams in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico and was in charge of Gimnasia y Esgrima in Argentina’s top flight at the time of his death.
World pays tribute
Brazil legend Pele led tributes to Maradona, writing on Twitter: “What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky.”
Former England striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, who was part of the England team beaten by Argentina at the 1986 World Cup, said Maradona was “by some distance, the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time”.
Ex-Tottenham and Argentina midfielder Ossie Ardiles said: “Thank dear Dieguito for your friendship, for your football, sublime, without comparison. Simply, the best football player in the history of football. So many enjoyable moments together. Impossible to say which one was the best. RIP my dear friend.”
Juventus and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo said: “Today I bid farewell to a friend and the world bids farewell to an eternal genius. One of the best of all time. An unparalleled magician. He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled. Rest in peace, ace. You will never be forgotten.”
Boca Juniors, where Maradona enjoyed two spells and finished his career, gave “eternal thanks” to their former player.
Paris St-Germain and Brazil forward Neymar posted a photo of him as a youngster with Maradona, calling the Argentine a “legend of football”.
England captain Harry Kane and forward Marcus Rashford also paid tribute.
Barcelona was the first club outside of Argentina that Maradona played for. He scored 22 goals in 36 appearances between 1982 and 1984.
Another of Maradona’s former clubs, Napoli, paid tribute. He played for the club between 1984 and 1991, making 188 appearances.
‘It was in football he found his peace’ – analysis
South American football writer Tim Vickery
He was an everyman Argentine, who lived out a national fantasy with the way he scored his two goals in that 1986 quarter-final win over England.
Scoring those goals, against that opponent, turned Maradona almost into a deity in the eyes of some of his compatriots – with disastrous consequences. Living the aftermath was not easy.
Without the discipline of football, the second half of his life was a chaotic affair.
But it was in football that he seemed to find his peace. As a fan he would turn up at the stadium of his beloved Boca Juniors, take off his shirt, swirl it around his head and lead the chanting.
For many his spontaneity and fallibility were part of the appeal.
His admirers thrived on the way he would fall down only to get back up again. It humanised a figure whose epic life was as mazy as one of his left-footed dribbles.
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