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U.S. "Does Not Accept the Results" of Flawed Belarus Election

20 March 2006

Supports call by Belarusian opposition leaders for new election

By Jeffrey Thomas
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States does not accept the claims of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko that he won the March 19 presidential election, which international election observers have deemed “severely flawed.”

“The United States does not accept the results of the election,” said White House press secretary Scott McClellan in response to a reporter’s question en route to Cleveland, where President Bush was giving a speech. (See related article.)

“The election campaign was conducted in a climate of fear.  It included arrests and beatings and fraud,” said McClellan.

He praised democrats in Belarus “for their courage and peaceful stand to reclaim their freedom,” and said the United States supports their call for a new election.

Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994, ran for a third term in the March 19 election.  In 2004, he engineered what the United States considered a “fraudulent referendum” that enabled him to change the Belarus Constitution, which otherwise would have banned him from running for a third term.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have referred to Lukashenko’s government as the “last outpost of tyranny in Europe.”

The United States criticized Lukashenko recently for his corruption and links to terrorists.  A new U.S. government report cited “credible information” that senior government leaders in Belarus “abuse public resources, including for personal use,” and said that Lukashenko “is likely among the most corrupt leaders in the world” with assets potentially worth billions of dollars. The report also cited secret arms sales to such state sponsors of terrorism as Iran and Sudan. (See related article.)

ELECTION SERIOUSLY FLAWED

The March 19 presidential election failed to meet international commitments for democratic elections, according to an international election observation team sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR).

Among the serious flaws in the election process cited by the mission on March 20 were arbitrary use of state power and widespread detentions, a climate of intimidation and insecurity, a “highly problematic” vote count and one-sided media coverage. The mission comprised over 500 international observers from 38 countries.

Independent human rights groups that monitored the election, such as the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), criticized the elections as lacking credibility for reasons ranging from Lukashenko’s illegal candidacy to the lack of transparency during the vote count. (See IHF/BHC statement on the organization’s Web site.)

Before the election, the United States warned that, along with western Europe, it was “prepared to respond in a most serious way to fraud, abuse, and violence perpetrated by this regime” and that it “would be a grave mistake by those in the Lukashenko regime to underestimate American and European resolve.” (See related article.)

U.S. officials have said on various occasions and in diverse fora in recent weeks that the run-up to the election already was flawed deeply. Lukashenko “has already tilted the playing field to assure his re-election by using state officials and police to intimidate opposition candidates, nonpartisan activists and voters,” the State Department’s David Kramer told a congressional hearing recently. (See related article.)

In his remarks March 20, White House spokesman McClellan said, “In cooperation and coordination with the European Union, we're prepared to act against those officials responsible for election fraud and human rights abuses.”

“We also warn authorities in Belarus against threatening or detaining those exercising their political rights in the coming days and beyond,” he continued.  “The United States will continue to stand with the people of Belarus and support their aspirations to reclaim their rightful place among the communities of democracy.” (See related article.)

An official White House statement released later in the day called on the regime in Belarus “to release immediately those detained during the campaign.”

The International Election Observation Mission’s report on the presidential election in Belarus is available on the ODIHR Web site in English and Russian.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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