The opposition in Belarus rejected official election results handing President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide re-election victory yesterday, saying the poll was rigged and that talks needed to begin on a peaceful transfer of power.
Earlier, the central election commission said Lukashenko, in power for more than a quarter of a century, won 80% of the vote in Sunday's election, while Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, who emerged from obscurity to become his main rival, took just 9.9%.
"The authorities are not listening to us. The authorities need to think about peaceful ways to hand over power," said Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the race after her blogger husband was jailed.
"Of course we do not recognise the results."
Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to the vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko's rivals and open criminal investigations into others who voiced opposition.
Events are being closely watched by Russia, whose oil exports run through Belarus to the West and which has long regarded the country as a buffer zone against Nato, and the West, which has tried to lure Minsk from Moscow's orbit.
The streets in the capital and other cities were quiet after violence on Sunday night, when riot police used force to disperse thousands of protesters who had gathered to denounce what they said was an electoral farce.
But Lukashenko signalled he would not step down. "The response will be appropriate. We won't allow the country to be torn apart," the 65-year-old leader was quoted by the Belta news agency as saying.
Lukashenko repeated allegations that shadowy forces abroad were trying to manipulate protesters.
The European Union's foreign policy chief and its commissioner for enlargement said the election had been marred by "disproportionate and unacceptable state violence against peaceful protesters".
A spokesman for the German foreign ministry said there were numerous indications of electoral fraud and that the EU was discussing how to react. Neighbouring Poland said it wants a special EU summit on Belarus.