Police beatings follow Lukashenko landslide

An opposition leader in hospital and an activist for the Polish Union in Belarus detained after protests were broken up by baton-wielding police in Minsk, as polls predict a fourth term for incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko in elections, Sunday.

The 64 year old poet and presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyayev was beaten unconscious by police, claims his press spokeswoman.

Andrzej Poczobut, an activist for a Polish minority organisation that Lukashenko refuses to officially recognise, told the PAP news agency that he was detained by police after the demonstration in Minsk and "was being held on a bus," he said via mobile phone.

Exit polls predict that Alexander Lukashenko won between 74 and 79 percent of the vote in elections in Belarus, though a poll by Warsaw funded Belsat TV claims that the incumbent president has just 30 percent support nationwide.

If the exit polls are matched by actual votes cast then Lukashenko, once described by Condoleezza Rice as "the last dictator in Europe", has won a fourth term in the Presidential Palace, without the need for a second round run off.


On news that Lukashenko had won by such a huge margin over the nine other candidates, thousands took to the streets in the Belarusian capital in protest at what they consider rigged elections.

The demonstrators met with a ruthless police response, with news agencies describing how people fled after squads, using batons, moved in to disperse those gathering in Minsk's Independence Square.

Presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyayev was beaten unconscious.

"He was beaten. He is unconscious and was taken to hospital. Initial assessment is that he has suffered a frontal head injury of medium seriousness," Yulia Rimashevskaya told the Reuters news agency.

The Russian Svodboda Radio reports that three of the opposition candidates, Nikolai Statkevich, Andrei Sannikov and Ryhor Kastusiou were detained by police.


ECOO, one of two official pollsters, predicts that Lukashenko secured just under 80 percent of votes, with Vladimir Neklyayev and Andrei Sannikov on just under six percent.

A poll, however, commissioned by Belsat TV - which is largely funded by Poland's public broadcaster TVP - found that Lukashenko's support was as low as 30 percent, with Vladimir Neklyayev on 13.7 percent, Andrei Sannikov (10.9 percent) and Jaroslaw Romanczuk (8.7 percent).

Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, met with Lukashenko last month, accompanied by his German counterpart on an EU mission to promise the Belarusian president that if elections passed off fairly, and his poor human rights record improved, then increased aid from the EU would follow.

The Polish Union in Belarus has regularly complained of harassment from Belarusian authorities. Lukashenko has refused to recognise the union as an official representative of the Polish minority, and accused it of trying to destabilise his regime.

Many claim that Lukashenko's successive, crushing victories at the polls show that his attack on an independent media in the ex-Soviet nation, and his harassment of opposition politicians and activists from the Polish minority organisation and others, has been successful.

But former deputy prime minister of Poland, Andrzej Lepper, who was in Belarus as part of a team of election observers, said that there was no evidence of fraud during Sunday's elections.

Lepper, who once publicly supported Lukashenko's bid to change Belarus's constitution so he could run for more than two presidential terms, told Belsat TV that there had been complaints of irregularities but he was not aware of any evidence of ballot rigging.

TVN 24 news reported that on Sunday night social networking web sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, used by the Belarusian opposition to protest against another Lukashenko landslide, had either crashed or had been taken down. (pg)


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