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Belarus: U.S. Critical Of Elections

  • Frank Csongos

Washington, 11 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says the re-election of Belarus President Alyaksander Lukashenka cannot be internationally recognized because the balloting was neither free nor transparent.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said today the U.S. agrees with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that the election was flawed.

"Today [Monday], the International Observer Mission concluded that the election process failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections. Regrettably no part of the electoral process has been transparent or fair. Lukashenka has merely used a facade of elections to engineer a meaningless victory for himself."

Reeker said the U.S. will review what steps it might take to promote democracy in Belarus.

The Belarus Central Election Commission reported that Lukashenka gained more than 75 percent in Sunday's election. Challenger Uladzimir Hancharyk came in second with 15 percent.

Hancharyk said he does not agree with the official result. He accused Lukashenka's administration of vote-rigging and intimidation.

Reeker said:

"The United States concurs with OSCE's findings that the electoral process was not democratic. Elections that are neither free nor fair, cannot be internationally recognized."

Earlier today, hundreds of Belarusians gathered in a square in Minsk to protest Lukashenka's re-election. No arrests were made.

Longtime Belarus opposition activist Sergei Nekhamkin said no one expected a miracle but added: "No one expected such a brazen, illogical pressure on opposition members and campaign observers."

Lukashenka was triumphant, saying the vote was fair.

Lukashenka said: "The West made a mistake concerning the process in Belarus. It pushed itself into a corner."

The U.S. and other Western countries have been consistent in criticizing Lukashenka's crackdown on independent media and political opponents. Reeker restated the criticism today. He said:

"Belarusian authorities have demonstrated a clear disregard for both democracy and human rights during this election by avoiding transparency in all stages and engaging in a campaign of intimidation."

Reaction from Moscow was markedly different. Lukashenka, who has pushed for a merger with Russia, was congratulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He called Lukashenka's victory "convincing."

Putin expressed his admiration at what he called the "selflessness and spirit of Belarusian people which resisted all provocation and outer pressure and determined its destiny all by themselves."