U.S. Condemns Belarus Crackdowns, Rejects Election Results

The U.S. government said it rejects as illegitimate the re-election of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and “strongly condemns” a crackdown on demonstrators protesting the longtime leader’s return to office.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today called on Belarus authorities to release demonstrators who have been detained. At the State Department, spokesman Philip J. Crowley denounced beatings, arrests and the use of “excessive force” against opposition politicians, journalists and civil activists, some of whom tried to storm the parliament to protest Lukashenko’s re-election yesterday.

According to the Belarus Central Election Commission’s website, Lukashenko won 79.7 percent of the vote. Gibbs said the U.S. “cannot accept as legitimate” the official results.

Instead, the U.S. endorsed a report by the observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which concluded that voting and counting were not free, fair or transparent. The OSCE said the process was “marred by the detention of most presidential candidates and hundreds of activists.”

Lukashenko, 56, who has ruled Belarus since 1994 under a regime dubbed the last dictatorship in Europe by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, vowed to punish protesters. With the opposition defanged, demonstrations will probably fizzle out, said Alexander Rahr, an analyst at the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations.

“The opposition was dispersed, and tomorrow no one will remember these leaders,” Rahr said by telephone. “The situation in Belarus will only change when opposition against Lukashenko emerges from within the system. So far, there has been nobody like this.”"