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Lukashenko dismisses international criticism of post-election violence

Many outside of Belarus have criticised Minsk for the use of violence against protesters following Sunday's presidential election. President Alexander Lukashenko, though, praised the work of his security forces.

Riot police forming a barrier against protesters in Minsk on December 20 2010

Riot police fought with protesters in Minsk

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has hit back against international criticism of his reelection and the violence that followed it on Sunday.

He used a press conference in Minsk on Monday to praise his security forces for putting down the "banditry" of the "vandals" in the streets. "There will be no revolution or criminality in Belarus," he said.

Lukashenko described the vote as an exam. "We passed it in a worthy fashion and we did everything possible to ensure that the campaign was honest, open and in strict accordance with the law."

Hundreds of people have been detained by police, after questioning the election's fairness in demonstrations in the capital on Sunday night. Seven of Lukashenko's nine challengers have been arrested and are still being held.

Widespread condemnation

The European Union has led the condemnation of the Belarusian authorities. Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, called for the "immediate release" of opposition candidates and criticized the use of violence against protesters by police.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that it was "unacceptable" for dissenting voices "to be bullied, beaten or arrested." The foreign ministries of Poland and Italy also joined the criticism of the Belarusian riot police's heavy-handedness.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

Lukashenko won his fourth presidential term on Sunday

"The United States strongly condemns all election day violence in Belarus," the US embassy in Minsk added in a statement. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev refused to criticize the crackdown on the opposition in Belarus. "What happens there, in the long run, is the internal affair of our neighboring state", Medvedev told a Moscow press conference.

Lukashenko's relationship with Russia has been tense in recent months, with Medvedev having refused to endorse his reelection bid.

On Sunday night, thousands of voters angry at Lukashenko's reelection, demonstrated in Minsk. Some tried to storm government buildings, prompting riot police to hit back against demonstrators, including opposition leader Vladimir Neklyayev, with truncheons. Hundreds were encircled and taken away in police vans.

Some way to go

Belarus' central election commission reported that Lukashenko won 79.6% of the vote, after a turnout of more than 90%.

Opposition supporters during a rally in Minsk

Hundreds rallied to claim the election was rigged

"The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Belarus was still a "considerable way" from holding full democratic elections. According to the OSCE, the voting process took place relatively smoothly, but the counting of votes was done in a "non-transparent manner."

"This election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed," Tony Lloyd, head of the short-term OSCE observer mission, said.

Lukashenko has maintained an authoritarian grip over Belarus since 1994. Opposition candidates also claimed he had rigged the vote in the 2006 election.

Author: Thomas Sheldrick (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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