[JURIST] International election observers said Monday that this weekend's elections in Belarus [JURIST news archive], which secured a third term for Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko [official website; BBC profile], were "severely flawed" and failed to meet democratic standards. Lukashenko, whom the Bush administration has referred to as "the last dictator in Europe" was credited with 82.6 percent of the vote, citing total voter turnout of 92.6 percent. Leading opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich [official website] received 6 percent. In its preliminary report [PDF text; press release] Monday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] said that despite the presence of 500 international observers, harassment and detention of political activists [JURIST report] was rampant:
It is clear that this election did not meet OSCE commitments and international electoral standards. The arbitrary abuse of state power, obviously designed to protect the incumbent President, went far beyond acceptable practice. The incumbent President permitted State authority to be used in a manner which did not allow citizens to freely and fairly express their will at the ballot box.The EU has also said that diplomatic sanctions against Belarus are likely.
After 10,000 people protested the initial results [JURIST report] on Sunday evening, police announced that continuing protesters will be treated as terrorists and possibly given the death penalty. Despite his authoritarian methods, the BBC reports that Lukashenko has genuine popular support, especially in rural areas. BBC News has more.
12:08 PM ET - AP is reporting that the White House has rejected the outcome of Sunday's election in Belarus and is supporting calls for a new election.
3:00 PM ET - White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Monday that the US does not accept the results of the Belarus elections [transcript]:
The election campaign was conducted in a climate of fear. It included arrests and beatings and fraud. We applaud democrats in Belarus for their courage and peaceful stand to reclaim their freedom. We support their call for a new election. You heard from the OSCE earlier today when they declared that the elections did not meet international standards for free and fair elections.Reuters has more. Russian President Vladimir Putin [official profile], meanwhile, offered support for Lukashenko in a telegram [transcript], saying that "The results of the election that has just taken place are evidence of the voters' confidence in the course you have chosen to ensure rising prosperity for the Belarusian people." Reuters has more.
In cooperation and coordination with the European Union, we're prepared to act against those officials responsible for election fraud and human rights abuses.
In Minsk, about 5,000 demonstrators gathered Monday night to protest the elections, prompting the government to send in busloads of riot police to control the crowds. The number of protesters Monday was about half the number who turned out the day before, but opposition politician Milinkevich encouraged his supporters to remain strong, saying "We will never recognize this election. It's not an election by an anti-constitutional seizure of power." In a speech Monday, Lukashenko said the opposition against him was organized by Western forces plotting to end his control of the country. AP has more.