By Katya Andrusz
A candidate in last weekend's Belarusian elections said the European Union and U.S. "ignored" the democratic opposition in the run-up to the vote, which ended in hundreds of arrests after demonstrators crowded central Minsk to protest what they called electoral fraud.
"The EU and U.S. should stick to supporting democracy and freedom of expression, instead of ignoring us to talk to the authorities," Jaroslav Romanchuk said by phone from Minsk today.
Police arrested more than 600 demonstrators as well as several of President Alexander Lukashenko's nine rivals when thousands of protesters gathered outside the Central Election Commission building after the Dec. 19 election. At least five of the candidates are still in detention, according to Romanchuk.
Lukashenko won 79.65 percent of the vote, returning him to office for a fourth term. His closest rival, Andrei Sannikov, who was arrested on election night, won 2.43 percent while Romanchuk gained 1.98 percent. Nikolai Lozovik, the head of the Central Election Commission, said the organization would be considering complaints about the election today, newswire Belapan reported.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said election night was "marred," while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, yesterday released a joint statement criticizing the crackdown on protesters following the vote.
"We strongly condemn all violence, especially the disproportionate use of force against presidential candidates, political activists, representatives of civil society and journalists," Clinton and Ashton said. "The elections and their aftermath represent an unfortunate step backwards."
A country of 10 million wedged between European Union member Poland to the west and Russia to the east, Belarus was dubbed the "last dictatorship in Europe" by the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush. Lukashenko, 56, has ruled Belarus since 1994.
According to Romanchuk, it may be some time before the opposition regains enough strength to resume large-scale protests.
"The democratic forces are demoralized," he said. "We need the EU and U.S. to support the people who are really fighting for this country."
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