Belarus defends election protest arrests; OSCE criticizes vote count


20 December 2010

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has won re-election with 79% of the vote, state media said Monday, citing preliminary voting results.

The country's Central Election Commission told the state-run Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BelTA) that the voter turnout was 90% and that it had not received any complaints.

However, opposition candidates on Sunday took to the streets in the capital city of Minsk and clashed with police as preliminary results trickled in.

Several hundred protesters were arrested and taken away by riot police, journalist Alexander Lukashuk said. However, Belarus' Interior Ministry, in a statement on its website, said "several thousand of the most aggressive delinquents" were arrested in the protests.

"The overwhelming majority of them were drunk unemployed people and students of various schools and universities, some of them under age," the ministry said.

One demonstration was in support of presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev, who was hurt in clashes with riot police, Russian news agency Interfax said.

The election commission said Monday that Neklyaev received 1.77% of the votes.

Another candidate, Nikolai Statkevich, told state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti that he, too, was beaten. The election commission numbers, cited by BelTA, put the number of votes Statkevich received at 1.04%.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has repeatedly expressed concerns over the status of civil and political rights in Belarus. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once called Lukashenko "the last dictator in Europe."

The OSCE said in a statement Monday that its observers reported while the election showed improvement, "Belarus still has a considerable way to go in meeting its OSCE commitments." It noted the detention of candidates as well as activists, journalists and others.

"While voting on election day was overall assessed positively, the process deteriorated significantly during the vote count, with observers assessing almost half of vote counts monitored as bad or very bad," the organization said. "This undermined the steps that had been taken to improve the election."

"This election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed," said Tony Lloyd, who leads a short-term OSCE mission and heads the delegation of the organization's Parliamentary Assembly. "The counting process lacked transparency. The people of Belarus deserved better. And, in particular, I now expect the government to account for the arrests of presidential candidates, journalists and human rights activists."

Authorities used stun grenades on the demonstrators as they headed toward October Square in downtown Minsk, Interfax reported. However, several thousand people gathered in the square, chanting "For Belarus!" Some of them waved flags with the symbol of the Christians Democratic Party, led by candidate Vitaly Rymashevsky.

The Interior Ministry said authorities knew in advance that some presidential candidates planned to "stage unsanctioned mass rallies." The gatherings at first seemed peaceful, according to the ministry statement, but "turned into an attempt to seize the government building where the Central Elections Committee was located."

The building was attacked with sections of water pipes, stones and pieces of ice, breaking several windows, the ministry said, and protesters stormed inside. Police are working on identifying the organizers and participants, "as well as documenting their crimes and estimating the inflicted damage," the ministry said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at a news conference broadcast on Russian state television Monday, said that Moscow expects Belarus to continue "to develop as a modern state based on democracy" after the election.

"No matter who the leader is, Belarus will always be one of the states closest to us," Medvedev said.

Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994, was running against nine other candidates, the election commission said.

None garnered more than 2.5% of the votes, BelTA said.

Andrei Sannikov, a former diplomat who wants to see Belarus as a member of the European Union, was one of the main opposition leaders. The two others are Yaroslav Romanchuk and Neklyaev.

Economist Romanchuk, a candidate from the United Civil Party, has been prolific in publicizing his views on economic reforms. Meanwhile, Neklyaev ran a social campaign, "Tell the Truth!" He was arrested for participating in public protests earlier this year and later released.



Nat Parry

Head of Communications and Press

Office: +45 33 37 80 55
Mobile: +45 60 10 81 77
Email: [email protected]

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