News / USA

Lukashenko Wins Belarus Presidential Election, Mass Protests Follow

President earns 80% of vote in election opposition says was rigged

An opposition demonstrator walks in front of the riot police officers during a rally in Minsk, Berlarus, early Monday, Dec. 20, 2010. Thousands of opposition supporters in Belarus tried to storm the main government building to protest what the opposition
An opposition demonstrator walks in front of the riot police officers during a rally in Minsk, Berlarus, early Monday, Dec. 20, 2010. Thousands of opposition supporters in Belarus tried to storm the main government building to protest what the opposition

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko won a fourth 5-year term Monday, after a landslide election marred by a violent police crackdown on demonstrators and the arrest of opposition candidates.

Electoral commission figures released early Monday show Mr. Lukashenko has been re-elected with almost 80 percent of the votes.  The opposition says Mr. Lukashenko rigged the vote.   

Immediately after polls closed Sunday, Belarusian riot police used batons to break up a huge protest in central Minsk.

Tens of thousands of people defied the president and packed Independence Square.

After a crowd of demonstrators smashed windows and doors of government headquarters and tried to storm the building, troops surrounded the square as riot police waded into the crown, swinging batons.

Hundreds were arrested and witnesses report numerous injuries.

Earlier, police beat and seriously injured opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev, who was taken to a hospital unconscious.

They also used noise grenades and flooded another central square with water in Arctic-like temperatures to create an impromptu ice rink to discourage protesters.  That did not stop thousands from chanting pro-democracy slogans and waving European Union flags.

While casting his vote Sunday, Mr. Lukashenko denounced the opposition and said there would be no one on the square that night.

The opposition says authorities urged voters to cast ballots before election day, which it says opens the door to massive fraud.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush has called Mr. Lukashenko "Europe's last dictator" for suppressing free speech, human rights and rigging past elections.  The European Union also maintains sanctions against some Belarusian officials.

Mr. Lukashenko has recently been feuding with long-time ally Russia over gas and oil prices and has spoken of closer ties to the West.  But European Union foreign ministers have said they are concerned with a lack of progress towards democracy and human rights in Belarus.

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