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Belarus: OSCE Says Vote Unfair; Putin Congratulates Lukashenka

Minsk, 10 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says yesterday's presidential election in Belarus -- which gave incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka a landslide victory -- failed to meet democratic standards. The Central Election Commission said early today that preliminary final results show Lukashenka won 75 percent of yesterday's vote. It said opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk had 15 percent and ultranationalist Syarhey Haidukevich 2.5 percent. The final official results are to be announced later today.

Lukashenka said he had won "an elegant and beautiful victory." But Hancharyk said the results were "falsified" and accused Lukashenka of "seizing power." The election commission said turnout was 84 percent.

The Belarus branch of the Helsinki Group for Human Rights also has called for the results to be invalidated, citing what it called "credible reports" that ballots were removed and replaced.

Gerard Stoudman, head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told RFE/RL today that the vote failed to meet democratic standards.

"(The election is) not in accordance with international standards, OSCE, Council of Europe standards. It's not in accordance with normal democratic standards," Stoudman said. "This is the first conclusion. On the other hand, we say that we see and we welcome the very beginning of the emergence of a civil society -- in particular in the young people, [amongst] the young generation."

Also today, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenka on what he called an "impressive victory." And, election monitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States described the vote as "legitimate, free, and open."

Hancharyk accused Lukashenka of fraud in a speech in the center of the capital Minsk before his supporters on Sunday night.

Hancharyk said that power is being handed to Lukashenka through fraud. Even before preliminary results were in, Lukashenka proclaimed that he had won the election. Lukashenka added that: "Our elections don't need the recognition of anybody. Our elections have to go according to our laws. I think that just like in the U.S., France, [and] Britain, we are going to follow not only the letter of the law but all the periods and commas."

Yesterday, a small bomb exploded near the U.S. embassy in Minsk while voters went to the polls. Police reported no injuries or damage and said that an investigation is being made. It is unclear whether the blast was aimed at the embassy or connected to the elections.

The U.S. has criticized the rule of Lukashenka and has said it will not recognize the results of the election. Also on Sunday, several Internet sites of the Belarus opposition, including that of Hancharyk, were blocked. It was no longer possible to consult the websites of opposition media or human rights organizations.

The head of Hancharyk's campaign website, Yuriy Polevikau, said the site has been blocked since midday. He said there is only one Internet service provider in Belarus, Beltelecom, which is a state monopoly.

Several hundred thousand Belarusians have access to the Internet. Opposition media has complained of harassment by the authorities during the election campaign, including confiscation of newspapers and equipment such as computers.

And in another move, Lukashenka said on Sunday that the Minsk mission chief of the OSCE, Hans-Georg Wieck, is a spy who must leave the country. He said Wieck will be expelled from Belarus if he doesn't leave voluntarily.