VARIOUS: Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko sweeps back into office in election condemned by Washington...
- Title: VARIOUS: Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko sweeps back into office in election condemned by Washington and the European Union igniting new opposition protests
- Date: 21st March 2006
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) BELARUS PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, SAYING: "First of all let me say that the revolution that so many people talked about and some were preparing, has failed and it could not be otherwise." BELARUS PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO WITH PEOPLE APPLAUDING (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) BELARUS PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, SAYING: "Despite the pressure and orders from outside, they couldn't break us. It was the opposite, the effect was the opposite to what they wanted. Belarus people are a nation, who can not be dictated to, and there is no sense to pressure them. The results of the vote show this clearly."
- Reuters ID: LVA22Y9YO59E2N0FXPBNFWZXPX00
- Duration: 00:00:45
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- Topics: Domestic Politics
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- Story Text: Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko swept back into office on Monday (March 20) in an election that was condemned by independent observers, ignited new opposition protests and set the United States and Russia at odds.
Belarus's Central Election Commission said President Alexander Lukashenko won re-election with 82.6 percent of the vote to opposition hopeful Alexander Milinkevich's 6 percent in Sunday's election.
Lukashenko said triumphantly on Monday his re-election showed efforts to stage a pro-West revolt in Belarus had failed.
Shunned in the West, Lukashenko defended his re-election as honest and democratic, adding: "Let me say, that the revolution that so many people talked about and some were preparing, has failed and it could not be otherwise."
Referring to Western support for the political opposition, he told a news conference: "Despite the pressure and orders from outside, they couldn't break us."
Several thousand people, defying warnings by Lukashenko's state security forces, massed in freezing weather in a central square after an appeal by opposition rival Alexander Milinkevich, who called for a re-run of the vote.
"This is not the elections, this is the state anti-constitutional coup d'etat and its a shame," Milinkevich told 7,000 supporters.
Milinkevich said the opposition's objective was dialogue with the government, which has long ignored rivals.
As the evening wore on, the crowd -- already smaller than the protest when polls closed on Sunday (March 19) -- began thinning out.
However, organisers were determined to remain overnight.
A dozen tents were pitched in October Square, a reminder of the highly-organised 2004 "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. Volunteers distributed sleeping bags, food and hot drinks.
Protesters chanted the single word "Truth", and played music tapes to keep spirits high. Tightly-controlled state television described the rally as a "crowd of drunken youngsters".
There was no sign of intervention by the security forces, who warned against such protests on the eve of the election.
Nor was there any indication the rally could swell to the magnitude of the Kiev upheaval that led to a rigged election result being annulled and a pro-Western leader coming to power.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994 and a bogeyman for the West because of his Soviet-style policies, told a news conference that a pro-Western revolution, like those that unseated entrenched establishments in Ukraine and Georgia, had been stopped in its tracks.
The outcome, never in doubt given Lukashenko's control over much of public life, put Washington and Moscow at variance.
Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin, for whom the rise to power of pro-Western governments in Georgia and Ukraine underscored reduced influence in former Soviet areas, congratulated Lukashenko.
Reactions from Washington and the European Union clearly indicated there would be no change in Belarus's international isolation.
Within minutes, the United States, which last year described Lukashenko as "Europe's last dictator", denounced his victory and said the election had been conducted in a "climate of fear".
"The United States cannot accept as legitimate the election results announced yesterday by the Belarussian Central Election Commission declaring Alexander Lukashenko the winner in a landslide... The United States congratulates the courageous Belarussian democrats who, against appalling electoral conditions and at great risk, have moved their country closer toward reclaiming its democratic rights. We support their call for a new election. We will stand with the people of Belarus and back their aspirations to take their rightful place among the world's democracies,'' Sean McCormack, spokesman for the U.S. State department, explained.
''The United States is preparing to take serious, appropriate measures against those officials responsible for election fraud and other human rights abuses and will be coordinating these steps with the European Union,'' McCormak added.
The European Union said it would "very likely" extend sanctions -- probably further restrictions on travel for Belarussian officials, rather than punitive economic measures.
"We have started a discussion today that will be continued and will include also the possibility of taking restrictive measures against those who are responsible for the acts in the course of the electoral process," Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik -- whose country holds the EU presidency -- warned.
Differences between Washington and Moscow will bring fresh tension into relations between the former superpower rivals in a year when Russia chairs the Group of Eight club of rich nations.
Lukashenko, 51, renewed charges that his rivals had planned a new pro-Western revolt.
"Let me say that the revolution that so many people talked about and some were preparing, has failed and it could not be otherwise," the former state farm head told a news conference.
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