US, EU, lead condemnation of Belarus crackdown


BRUSSELS - The United States and EU led a storm of international condemnation of Belarus Monday after protesters against the reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko were beaten and hundreds detained.

Hundreds of people were arrested in the early hours of Monday after riot police broke up the protests in Minsk in the immediate aftermath of Lukashenko's landslide victory in Sunday's election.

Among those arrested were seven of his nine election opponents.

"The United States strongly condemns all election day violence in Belarus," the US embassy in Minsk said in a statement.

"We are especially concerned over excessive use of force by the authorities, including the beating and detention of several presidential candidates and violence against journalists and civil society activists."

The European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton called on Belarus to "immediately release" the opposition leaders and condemned the use of violence.

However, Belarus' most powerful neighbour Russia steered clear of condemning the brutal crackdown.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said it was "an internal matter for Belarus."

"What happens there, in the long run, is the internal affair of our neighbouring state," he told a joint press conference with Latvian counterpart Valdis Zatlers.

"I hope that these elections will result in Belarus being a modern state that continues on the path of creating a modern state based on democracy and friendship with its neighbours," added Medvedev.

In contrast, Poland condemned the violence, the foreign ministry saying it was "particularly worrying to see the beating and arrest of opposition candidates in the presidential election."

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the crackdown and the arrests of opposition candidates was "unacceptable".

"We are very worried about the episodes of repression and violence against protesters and opposition representatives," Frattini said in a statement.

"We believe that episodes like the events yesterday do not help build a climate of trust to facilitate this process, and are not in the interest of Belarus," he added.

Lukashenko won Sunday's polls outright with nearly 80 percent of the vote after a huge turnout of over 90 percent, the central election commission said.

Election monitors from the pan-European security body OSCE said the presidential election indicated that Belarus "still has a considerable way to go" in meeting its commitments for free and fair elections.

It said that while the overall voting process was assessed as good, the process deteriorated significantly during the vote count itself.

"Observers assessed the vote count as bad and very bad in almost half of all observed polling stations."

"The count was largely conducted in a non-transparent manner, generally in silence, which undermined its credibility," it added.


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