Belarus presidential landslide considered unfair

By Maria Danilova The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus – Independent observers said yesterday the re-election of iron-fisted President Alexander Lukashenko was “a farce” because his opponents were systematically intimidated and detained.

The European Union said it likely will impose financial and diplomatic sanctions on Belarus’ top leaders in response.

However, Russia hailed the election held by its ally and said the result that gave Lukashenko a third term “must be viewed with respect.”

Official results showed Lukashenko with 82.6 percent of the vote, Central Election Commission chief Lidiya Yermoshina said. Main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich received 6 percent, she said, citing a preliminary ballot count.

Underlying the election is a struggle for regional influence between Russia and the West, which is seen by Lukashenko’s government and its backers in Moscow as a major culprit in the political upheaval in former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

At a boastful and belligerent nationally televised news conference where he repeatedly criticized the United States, Lukashenko repeated allegations that the opposition was backed by Western forces plotting to bring him down.

“The revolution that was talked about so much … has failed,” he said, adding that Belarusians had resisted “colossal pressure from outside” and “showed who’s the boss.”

“You have seen our opposition, and if you are reasonable people you have been convinced that it’s worthless,” said the 51-year-old leader who has ruled since 1994.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe said the election was neither free nor fair.

“The March 19 presidential election did not meet the required international standards for free and fair elections,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., who chairs the OSCE parliamentary assembly, the world’s largest regional security organization.