Belarus' choice

Anna Forostenko

The election results in Belarus are as follows: Alexander Lukashenko will stay in office for a fourth term, the majority of the opposition candidates are arrested, hundreds of their supporters have been taken to the KGB and jail, and special police forces have carried out operations against a number of media.

Announcer: The opposition is summing up the election results: independent candidates, among them Andrey Sannikov, Nikolay Statkevich and Grigory Kostusev, have been detained. Vitaly Rymashevsky is in hospital. Candidate Vladimir Nekliayev, according to his wife, was taken by people in civilian clothes from his hospital ward to unknown whereabouts.

Yaroslav Romanchuk, one of the few opposition leaders who remain free, said in his interview for "The Voice of Russia" that, as far as he knows, Vladimir Nekliayev is at the KGB now.

"He was taken to a KGB detention cell and proceedings were instituted against him on charges of mass disorders. Now the authorities will try to accuse all opposition of provocations. There is unverified information that the authorities are thinking of doing away with a whole number of political structures and informational resources, which still functioned yesterday."

Facts prove that the authorities have begun to "work" on independent media. There are a lot of journalists among those who have been arrested. Irina Khalip from the Novaya Gazeta, who is the wife of independent candidate Alexander Sannikov, was arrested while she was giving an interview on the phone. According to the latest information, journalists and volunteers from the Khartia '97 opposition site are at the KGB. The site "Human Rights Activists for Free Elections" has been blocked.

On the previous evening, Belarusians, dissatisfied with the election results, went to Oktiabrskaya Square in the centre of Minsk. According to different sources, between 10 and 45 thousand people gathered there, in spite of the fact that the authorities had turned the square into a gigantic ice skating-rink. The independent candidates spoke to the demonstrators. They announced data from independent exit polls, according to which Lukashenko only has a little over 30% of the votes. People decided to go to the House of the Government in Independence Square. When they reached it, the presidential candidates asked to be allowed into Government House for talks. Unfortunately, some people tried to storm the House, so the police used force. This is how Yaroslav Romanchuk describes the events:

"At first, it looked like a peaceful demonstration. We went to Oktiabrskaya Square. Later, some presidential candidates decided to take the people to Independence Square. The situation grew tense, which prompted provocations, like storming the House of the Government. As a result, the police broke up the gathering. About 600 people were arrested, among them some political leaders."

The Central Election Committee has declared that everything that took place after the election has nothing to do with the election procedure. However, exactly due to protest actions by the opposition, the announcement of the election results was postponed indefinitely, as members of the CEC remained in their office without electricity and could not work for a long time. Still, the election results have finally been summed up. The announcement was made by Lydia Yermoshina, the head of the CEC.

"5,122,866 people, or 79.67%, voted for Alexander Lukashenko; 113,747 people, or 1.77%, for Vladimir Nekliayev; and 164,000 people, or 2.56%, for Andrey Sannikov".

However, to all appearances, the opposition is not going to lay down arms so far. At 6 p.m. on the 20th of December, the Belarusians may go to the Square again. As the opposition leaders say, now is the time to fight for the freedom of presidential hopefuls.


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