Monday, December 20, 2010

Protest against Belarus presidential election

Thousands of opposition strikers in Belarus have attempted to hurricane the government headquarters, following the country's presidential election.

The strikers destroyed windows and doors at the building in Minsk, but were later pushed back by riot police.

Four presidential candidates were arrested while another was wounded in an earlier incident.
Incumbent Alexander Lukashenko has been announced the winner, but the opposition says the result is fixed.

Official results declared early on Monday awarded President Lukashenko 79.7% of the vote. This will the authoritarian leader's fourth term in office.

During his presidency, the former Soviet republic has never detained a poll seen as fair by international monitors. However the election campaign was much freer as compared to the past.
By late Sunday evening at least 10,000 protesters had gathered in central Minsk, accusing the elections as bogus.

Waving unofficial Belarusian white-red-white flags, they shouted: "For Freedom!", "Down with Lukashenko!" and "Down with Gulag (Soviet-era labour camps)!"

According to eyewitnesses numbers of protesters were wounded in clashes after being beaten with batons.

 More riot police then arrived in central Minsk and began scattering the protestors. There were also reports of mass arrests.

Four presidential candidates were among those detained: Andrey Sannikov, Nikolay Statkevich, Grigory Kostusev and Vitaly Rymashevsky.  Earlier another opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyaev was injured when the police broke up a rally staged by some 200 of his supporters.

Mr Neklyaev's campaign activists told the newsmen that he was roughly beaten and taken to hospital with head injuries. His wife said he was later taken by police from his hospital bed.

Mr Lukashenko had earlier warned his rivals against organizing rallies as he cast his vote. "What is awaiting supporters of the protest - read our laws. Everything will be in strict accordance with the law.
"Don't worry, nobody is going to be on the square tonight," the president added.

Police had earlier warned they would crack down hard on any protests.

Nine contesters were competing with Mr Lukashenko for the presidency.

There will definitely be political changes... but no change of power in BelarusFor the first time, state television televised a debate among the contenders opposing the president, who has governed since 1994.

Mr Lukashenko - who remains popular amongst the vast majority of the population, did not participate n the discussion. The authorities also allowed activists to collect signatures during the election campaign, perform protest songs and read anti-government poetry.

In spite of many in Belarus think that the election’s day result has already been pre-designed and the political thaw is merely window-dressing.

"Lukashenko wants this to show to the Europeans because he needs money from Europe," Andrei Sannikov, one of the three main opposition candidates, said earlier this week. "The economy is in very poor shape and he needs additional credits," he said.

Mr Lukashenko, who rejects the opposition's blame, has said he is not willing to leave, whether by the ballot box or other means.  Asked by reporters last week if the vote would bring any political changes, he said: "There will definitely be political changes. I am sure you meant political changes in general, but no change of power in Belarus."

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