Belarus President, Opposition Trade Criticism After Election
19 March 2006
The long-time leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has won a huge victory, according to official poll results of Sunday's presidential election. But the main opposition candidate has called for the results to be annulled and promised more street protests.
The Belarus Electoral Commission says Alexander Lukashenko won re-election with more than 80 percent of the vote. With most of the vote counted, his main rival, Alexander Milinkevich, trails far behind, with six percent.
However Mr. Milinkevich was already challenging the vote count before any results were in.
The 58-year-old former university professor joined around 10,000 supporters at a rally in the capital city, Minsk, defying a ban on all demonstrations by the authorities.
Mr. Milinkevich told the crowd Belarus needs a free, fair, democratic election, not what he calls this clear farce. Many in the crowd raised their fists and waved the red-and-white Belarussian flag that was officially abolished by Mr. Lukashenko, who has run the country of 10 million with an iron fist for 12 years.
The 51-year-old former state-farm boss does enjoy certain support, especially among rural voters fearful of economic hardship if the Soviet-style command economy is changed. His reelection was expected, given that his supporters control the electoral apparatus.
All major media are also controlled by the government and the opposition long complained it had no means to get its point of view across.
Dozens of opposition figures were arrested before the vote, including top aides to Mr. Milinkevich.
The United States and European Union criticized the conditions in which the election was to be held, warning that new sanctions could be imposed against the Belarussian leadership, if the vote is considered unfair.
Mr. Lukashenko has denounced all foreign criticism of his regime, accusing Western nations of seeking to mount a coup against him. He does enjoy support from Moscow, which provides Belarus with subsidized energy.
The two countries have also long talked about merging into one state.
And, the Kremlin rejects Western pressure on Lukashenko that it sees as meddling in Moscow's traditional sphere of influence.
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