Lukashenko re-elected Belarus president-officials

By Olena Horodetska

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has been re-elected with 82.6 percent of all votes, the Central Election Commission said on Monday.

The commission said after counting all the ballots that Lukashenko had received 82.6 percent of all votes and that his opponent Alexander Milinkevich had received six percent.

"Alexander Lukashenko has been elected for a third term in office," Interfax news agency quoted Commission head Lidiya Yermoshina as saying. "Following the procession of 100 percent of the ballots, Lukashenko collected 82.6 percent of the votes."

The full results were announced just hours after some 10,000 people rallied in heavy snow in the central October Square of the capital when polls closed on Sunday, a protest unmatched in recent years. Lukashenko had pledged to "wring the necks" of anyone threatening public order, but police took no action.

The opposition rejected the returns as blatant fraud and said campaigning was marred by the arrests of dozens of opposition activists and mass intimidation.

Protesters stood in bitter winds waving flags and placards reading: "We believe! We can do it! We shall win!"

Milinkevich urged his supporters to regroup again on Monday night.

"We have already achieved a colossal victory. People have overcome their fear. Our objective is new and fair elections," he said at the start of the rally.

His calls were reminiscent of events in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine, where opposition activists mounted campaigns of mass protest against election results they said were fraudulent. In both countries, leaders were ultimately forced from power and replaced by pro-Western opponents.


Those events clearly disturbed Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been at pains to restore as much as he can of Moscow's influence in former Soviet republics. While having little personal affection for the outspoken Lukashenko, he may see his success in Belarus as serving Kremlin interests.

Lukashenko can draw on strong domestic support especially in rural areas where many see his 12-year rule as having spared them the turmoil, hardship and "wild" capitalism seen in many ex-Soviet republics.

But in the West, Belarus is seen widely as a last bastion of Soviet-style government and economic organisation. He has been described by Washington as Europe's last true dictator.

The Belarus election is likely to top the agenda of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

The EU has vowed to punish any vote-rigging with sanctions such as visa bans targeting those officials deemed responsible. If evidence points to vote-rigging, EU ministers could agree on a list Belarussian officials to face visa bans in coming weeks.

The bloc is reluctant to impose harsher measures such as economic sanctions for fear they would hit the Belarussian people rather than Lukashenko's government.