Vladimir Putin has congratulated ‘Europe’s last dictator’ Alexander Lukashenko on his ‘rigged’ landslide election victory.
News of the Belarus leader’s 80 per cent win has sparked riots in the country’s cities leading to dozens of injuries and at least one death.
But despite the controversy surrounding the vote, including opposition candidates being jailed, the Russian President offered his congratulations to Lukashenko, reports news agency RIA Novosti.
He said: “I hope that your state activities will contribute to the further development of mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian relations in all areas.”
This comes as around 3,000 people were detained in Belarus for taking part in the mass protests which saw demonstrators clash with riot cops, the Interior Ministry said.
Relations between Russia and Belarus have cooled recently after Lukashenko’s security forces detained more than 30 alleged Russian mercenaries near Minsk last month.
Belarus arrested the men after receiving information that more than 200 fighters had entered the country to destabilise it ahead of a presidential election, state media reported.
However, a meeting between Lukashenko and Russian PM Mikhail Mishustin appeared to repair some of the damage with the Belarusian saying the ex-Soviet nation remains a close and native country of Russia.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 26 years, won the election with 80 per cent of the vote despite anger over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic which he claimed could be stopped by drinking vodka.
At least one person was killed after being knocked over by a police van and many more were injured in the clashes that began in several cities after polling stations closed on Sunday.
Candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37, a former English teacher, who emerged from obscurity to become Lukashenko’s main rival, won 9.9 per cent of the vote, the official data showed.
She told reporters: “I believe my eyes, and I see that the majority is with us.”
Tikhanouskaya entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.
Her rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
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Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people were detained in the crackdown ahead of the election, including independent election observers and members of Tikhanouskaya’s campaign team.
After casting his vote on Sunday, Lukashenko denied imposing repressive measures as “fake news or far-fetched accusations”
According to official figures, Belarus has suffered 587 coronavirus deaths from 68,850 cases.