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'Europe's last dictator' rejects election calls as opposition movement threatens his grip

"The whole world is watching us with admiration and hope," opposition politician Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya said in a video on Monday.
Image: Workers march calling for nationwide strikes on Aug. 17, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus.
Workers march calling for nationwide strikes in Minsk, Belarus on Monday. Misha Friedman / Getty Images

Belarus's authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko faced angry calls to resign Monday morning, as the candidate who stood against him in last week's contested election said she's ready to lead the nation.

"I'm prepared to take responsibility and act as the nation's leader during this period so the country settles down and gets back to normality," opposition politician Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya said Monday in a video address from Lithuania.

Tsikhanouskaya, 37, fled the country last week after longtime President Lukashenko declared victory in the national election with 80 percent of the vote.

But Lukashenko said Monday there wouldn't be another election "until you kill me."

His comments came in response to boos, laughter and chants of "resign!" from workers during his visit to the tractor factory MZKT.

"We held elections already. Until you kill me, there will be no other elections," he was quoted by the Tut.by media outlet while speaking to workers outside the plant.

Since the election demonstrations have been held across the country with protesters claiming the results were fraudulent and demanding Lukashenko, known as Europe's last dictator, to step down.

Sunday saw the biggest rallies to date with rival groups holding protests.

Tsikhanouskaya, a former English teacher, has called another round of elections to be held as soon as possible with a new legal framework to ensure it was fair, transparent and acceptable by the international community.

"The whole world is watching us with admiration and hope," she said.

The official Belta news agency on Monday quoted Lukashenko as saying he was willing to share power and to change the constitution by means of a referendum, but that he was not prepared to do so under pressure from protesters.

On Sunday, Belta reported that he told a rally in the capital Minsk that it was impossible for the votes to be fraudulent and giving in to demands for a re-election would be disastrous.

"If we agree to this, we will perish," he said. "If we agree to the new election we will turn the country upside down."

Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the nation in an unknown location in Lithuania on Monday.Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Headquarters / Reuters

Lukashenko has led the former Soviet nation of about 9.5 million for 26 years and the latest election has secured him a sixth term in power.

Across Europe, rallies have been held in support of the Belarusian protesters.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was among the mounting number of international political leaders to question the results of the elections on Monday.

“The world has watched with horror at the violence used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the peaceful protests that followed this fraudulent Presidential election,” Raab said. “The U.K. does not accept the results.”

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement saying the election "was not free and fair."

He pointed to restrictions on ballot access for candidates, the prevention of local independent observers at polling stations and intimidation tactics for having tainted the results.

A least two protesters have been killed and thousands have been detained in the demonstrations, while dozens of protesters and police have been injured.

Widespread strikes were anticipated as an act of protest on Monday. On the state television news channel, Belteleradiocompany, music played to the broadcast of an empty studio after the program's anchors failed to turn up.

Meanwhile, nearly 5,000 workers from the Minsk Tractor Works plant marched down the streets of Minsk on Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Caroline Radnofsky contributed.