MINSK: The European Union on Wednesday rejected the result of Belarus’s disputed presidential election as strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko ordered his security forces to prevent any further unrest.

Following an emergency video conference on the elections, European Council chief Charles Michel said the EU would soon levy sanctions against a “substantial number” of people responsible for vote rigging and the violent suppression of protests in the ex-Soviet country.

Protesters have flooded the streets of Belarusian cities in the wake of the August 9 election, waving the red-and-white flags of the opposition and calling on Lukashenko to step down after he claimed a sixth term with some 80 percent of the ballot.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that the EU rejects the results of the vote, which was “neither free nor fair”.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after claiming victory in the vote, earlier on Wednesday urged EU leaders not to recognise the “fraudulent” ballot.

“Lukashenko has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” she said in the video appeal.

Western leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel this week called on Lukashenko’s close ally Russia to foster talks between authorities and the opposition.

The Kremlin on Wednesday described foreign interference in Belarus as “unacceptable” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned what he said were attempts from abroad to take advantage of unrest in Belarus.

“No one is making a secret of the fact that this is about geopolitics, the fight for the post-Soviet space,” he said in a televised interview.

Yet Minsk’s ties with Moscow have cooled in recent years after Lukashenko resisted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to integrate the two countries. Ahead of the vote, he accused the Kremlin of dispatching mercenaries to Minsk to stir unrest with the opposition.

Europe’s longest-serving leader, Lukashenko has resisted calls to resign or hold new elections and has accused the opposition of attempts to “seize power”.

During a meeting of his security council on Wednesday, Lukashenko ordered his government to prevent further unrest and shore up protections along the ex-Soviet country’s border.

“There should be no more riots in Minsk. People are tired; people demand peace and quiet,” Lukashenko told officials.

He said the protective measures on the border were necessary to stop “militants, weapons, ammunition and money from other countries from entering Belarus to finance the riots.”