Belarus election condemned as candidates held

MINSK - International monitors said Monday Belarus' presidential election was seriously flawed and condemned a police crackdown on protesters.

At least seven out of the nine candidates who ran against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in Sunday's vote were being detained by police Monday, political aides said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the "flawed" vote count - which it described as "bad or very bad" - and "heavy-handed" response to protestors.

It urged the authorities to account for the arrest of the candidates and scores of others, including rights activists and journalists.

"This election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed," said Tony Lloyd, head of the short-term observer mission of the OSCE, after Lukashenko was returned for a fourth term.

The arrested candidates included Vladimir Neklyayev, 64, who was taken from his hospital bed by police in the early hours after being earlier beaten by police, his wife said.

Others were Andrei Sannikov, head of the pro-rights Charter 97 group, Grigory Kostusev, head of a nationalist party, and Nikolai Statkevich, 54, a retired colonel who leads a social-democrat party, their aides said.

Pavel Rodionov, of the state prosecutor's office, told Belarussian state television that some of them would be charged with organizing mass unrest and could face up to 15 years in jail.

The news service Bloomberg reported that some 40,000 protesters had tried to smash their way into the Belarussian parliament in Minsk, smashing some of the building's windows.

Police spokesman Konstantin Shalkevich told Reuters that several hundred people in all had been detained on Sunday night after riot police moved in on Minsk's Independence Square to break up an anti-Lukashenko rally of several thousands.

'Brutally suppressed'

An unofficial rights defense website called Vyasna (Spring) - - published a list of 221 people whom it said had been arrested.

"The demonstration was brutally suppressed," Alexander Atroshchenko, spokesman for Sannikov, told Bloomberg by phone from Minsk. "I fear it could be a long time before he's (Sannikov) freed. But the protest will be back in the evening."

The opposition says Lukashenko supporters rigged the vote through fraudulent vote counting.

Early on Monday the state electoral commission said Lukashenko had won 79.7 percent with 100 percent of votes counted.

The OSCE's view of the election contrasted with the opinion of the observer mission from the Russia-led CIS, which said Monday that the election had been legitimate.

"The mission did not find any facts that placed under doubt the legitimacy of the elections," mission chief Sergei Lebedev told journalists.

However, Joerg Forbrig, a senior program officer for Central and Eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin, dismissed the election as a sham, Bloomberg said.

"The results were certain before the election started," he told the news service.

And monitoring campaign group Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections told Bloomberg in a statement "the early voting stage was marked by all the flaws typical of" presidential elections four years ago.

Belarus was described as the "last dictatorship in Europe" by former U.S. President George W. Bush's administration and the U.S., European Union and the United Nations Commission for Human Rights have all criticized Lukashenko, Bloomberg reported.


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