Outrage in Belarus

The election in Belarus may set a record for outrageousness, rivaling even the recent disastrous polls in Haiti and Ivory Coast.

Voters in the former Soviet republic of 10 million people went to the polls this week. President Aleksandr Lukashenko, running for a fifth term, faced nine challengers.

He won, not surprisingly, and claimed 80 percent of the vote.

His opponents cried fraud, a charge that was echoed in more dignified terms by international observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE called "a positive assessment of these elections ... impossible."

Demonstrators took to the streets of Minsk, the capital. That was unusual, given the generally heavy-handed approach to such manifestations of displeasure at Mr. Lukashenko's rule and electoral triumphs that Belarussians usually encounter.

Then things got wild. The president's security forces arrested 600 protesters, promising to jail them for two weeks. They also arrested seven of his presidential opponents, threatening each with as much as 15 years in prison.

No one can maintain that Belarus is a democracy, nor is it prosperous. But it has aspirations to be considered a modern European country - perhaps one day to be reviewed for membership in the European Union or to function as a respectable partner of Russia.

Mr. Lukashenko should release his presidential opponents and the protesters immediately. Although the United States does not do much with Belarus, Washington should use whatever means is at its disposal to pressure the president and his country to show more respect for democracy and human rights.


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