Protests at 'unfair' Belarus poll
MINSK, Belarus -- Hundreds have taken to the streets of Minsk to protest at the landslide victory of Belarus' incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko, who is branded in the West as a virtual dictator, won another five-year term in Sunday's elections, registering 75.6 percent of the vote.
His closest opposition, 61-year-old Vladimir Goncharik won 15.4 percent, while centrist politician Sergei Gaidukevich obtained 2.5 percent, election commission chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina said on Monday.
But the election has been dogged by allegations of a smear campaign against the official opposition candidates through state media manipulation, and vote rigging.
Demonstrators defied the law on Monday and waved the former national flag in an hour-long protest at the vote in Minsk's central square, following similar action on Sunday.
Lukashenko, who is popular among the elderly and villagers for maintaining a stable society, described the poll as a "glittering victory ... elegant and beautiful."
Goncharik said the vote was rigged, and called for a second round of balloting.
He told a crowd of supporters: "We do not agree with the official result, the falsification was outrageous," he was reported by Reuters as saying.
"We demand the election is declared invalid."
Opposition officials allege Lukashenko picked up only 47 percent of the vote, compared to 41 percent for Gorcharik.
Under Belarus law, a new round of voting would be required if neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the ballot.
One observer for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which provided 300 of the 700 international observers, dubbed the elections as "unfree and undemocratic."
"Unfortunately, these presidential elections did not meet international standards for free, democratic elections," Kimmo Kiljunen, vice president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and coordinator of the joint European monitoring mission told Reuters.
"Maybe the election process was somewhat free but clearly it was not fair," he added.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said "elections that are not fair cannot be recognized."
He said the Belarusian government used intimidation and interfered with the media. He said United States would consult with European nations on what steps might be taken.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, speaking in Copenhagen Monday, said, "We would like to deal with this in a very serious way." declined to elaborate. Lukashenko, who has taken Belarus along a Soviet-style path despite the country gaining independence in 1991, rejected Western accusations, saying the elections had been clean.
"The West made a mistake concerning the processes in Belarus," he was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
"It pushed itself in a corner."
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Belarus National Assembly
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