Lukashenka Claims Victory Amid Police Crackdown


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has won a fourth term in office in an election marred by violence and claims of massive falsification.

The head of the Central Election Commission, Lidiya Yermoshina, announced that Lukashenka won a decisive first-round victory with nearly 80 percent of the vote.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission in Belarus says it found serious flaws in the vote, saying the ballot "failed to give Belarus the new start it needed" after authorities arrested at least seven of the nine opposition candidates.

OSCE mission chief Tony Lloyd said the Belarusian government must account for the arrests of presidential candidates, journalists, and human rights activists. He said it was impossible to make a more positive assessment because of a "flawed vote count" and a "heavy-handed response" to the rally after the vote.

He also said the Central Election Commission "lacked impartiality."

"The people of Belarus deserved better," he said.

The sweeping vote returns were accompanied by brutal violence, as police and security forces clashed with opposition demonstrators, beating and arresting hundreds of people.

Protesters accused authorities of orchestrating massive electoral fraud in order to ensure Lukashenka's win. Several independent polls showed the longtime leader with just 30 percent support, suggesting he would not have been able to clear the 50-percent hurdle needed for a clear first-round victory.

The crowd that gathered at Minsk's central October Square briefly swelled to as many as 20,000 people. The demonstration began peacefully but dissolved into violence after some people in the crowd tried to storm the main government building, breaking windows and glass doors.

Riot police quickly surrounded the building, beating protesters with truncheons and loading them into police vehicles.

One of the presidential candidates, 64-year-old Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, was arrested while lying in a hospital bed after being beaten unconscious by security forces during the protests. Nyaklyaeu's wife, Volha, said men in civilian clothes later entered her husband's hospital room and forcibly carried him out without identifying themselves.

A video journalist working for RFE/RL's Belarus Service, whose name is being withheld for his safety, was among those attacked by police, capturing the confrontation on his camera:

The violence has sparked condemnations from foreign officials.

In a statement, the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the use of violence, "in particular the beating and detention of several opposition leaders, including a number of presidential candidates."

She called for the immediate release of the arrested candidates.

The U.S. Embassy in Belarus and the Lithuanian and Polish foreign ministries also denounced the unrest. Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament, demanded that Lukashenka punish those responsible, saying it "casts a shadow over the presidential election."

The violence comes after a relatively quiet campaign season and is certain to damage hopes for closer ties between Lukashenka and the West, which had offered Minsk a $3 billion aid package in return for a clean vote. The EU said delivery will depend largely on the OSCE's assessment.

An observer mission from the Russia-led Commonwealth of Independent States has already said it found the conduct of the vote to be legitimate.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the vote an "internal matter," saying "what happens there ultimately is an internal affair of a neighboring state."

"I hope that as a result of these elections, Belarus will be a modern state, will continue to develop along the path of building a modern state based on democracy and friendship with its neighbors," Medvedev added.

written by Daisy Sindelar, with RFE/RL's Belarus Service and agency reports


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