Russia, West differ on "Europe's last dictator"

Russia and the West offered contrasting reactions to presidential elections in Belarus on Sunday, swept by the country's long-time authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Mr. Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for the past 16 years, gained 79.7 per cent of the vote in the polls contested by 10 candidates, according to the Central Election Commission. The turnout was just over 90 per cent.

Western observers and governments accused Mr. Lukashenko, described as "Europe's last dictator", of using fraud and violence to win a fourth straight term in office.

However, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev refused to pass a judgement. He called to wait for official results and described the Belarus vote as an "internal affair", even as he voiced the hope that Belarus would "continue its march towards building a modern state, based on democracy and friendship with its neighbours".

Belarus police ruthlessly dispersed post-election protests in the capital Minsk, in which tens of thousands took part.

Riot police beat and detained hundreds and arrested seven of the nine presidential candidates.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote count was "bad or very bad" in half the country's precincts and strongly criticised the police brutality.

However, Russian observers said the Belarus vote was "transparent and democratic".

Russian state-run TV in recent months ran a series of programmes that exposed Mr. Lukashenko as a corrupt and dictatorial ruler responsible for murdering his opponents. However, Moscow softened its criticism after Mr. Lukashenko dropped his objections to further economic integration with Russia earlier this month. Moscow in exchange agreed to continue to supply Belarus with duty-free oil and low-priced gas.


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