Freivalds Calls Election in Belarus a Sham

Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds has dismissed the upcoming election in Belarus as a sham, and blasted President Alexander Lukashenko for suppressing democracy and free speech.

At a downtown rally held to demonstrate support for a free and democratic Belarus the Foreign Minister stated that "We know that when the election results come in on Sunday, it will not have been a fair election:"

Freivalds said the Lukashenko regime has repeatedly jailed opposition leaders, quashed independent media and isolated its people from Western democracies.

She added that "In such a country, you cannot have fair, democratic elections."

The Foreign Minister then went on to say that "We will not close our eyes to the increasing oppression. ... In today's Europe, there is no place for autocratic presidents, no place for dictatorships."

Lukashenko has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 10 million since 1994, quashing dissent and maintaining his grip on power through votes dismissed as illegitimate by critics.

He is seeking five more years at the helm after pushing through a referendum scrapping term limits.

His government has warned against election-day protests, accusing the opposition of plotting to forcefully overthrow the government and claiming Western countries and their ex-Soviet allies were working with the opposition toward that aim.

On Tuesday, two Swedes who were part of a team of unaccredited election observers in Belarus were arrested and ordered to leave the country, allegedly for breaking a polling law.

During a news conference earlier this month, Sweden's Prime Minister Goran Persson termed Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe."