Monitors condemn Belarus election

MINSK, Belarus (AP) - Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday that Belarus' presidential election did not meet standards for a free and fair vote. Alexander Milinkevich

Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich speaks to the media in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, March 20, 2006. Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of Sunday's election with an overwhelming majority. The European Union said the vote was marred by a "climate of intimidation." Photo: AP

"The March 19 presidential election did not meet the required international standards for free and fair elections," said Alcee Hastings, a U.S. congressman who chairs the OSCE parliamentary assembly.

"Arbitrary use of state power and widespread detentions showed a disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression, and raise doubts regarding the authorities' willingness to tolerate political competition," the mission said in a toughly worded statement.

In particular, the delegation criticized the detention of opposition workers and supporters.

"It was deeply saddening to witness the deterioration that took place toward the end of the campaign," said Geert Ahrens, head of the OSCE's long-term observer mission, referring to the detentions.

Earlier Monday, a rival observer mission, from the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent Nations, called the election open and transparent.

The CIS observers "declare the elections free, open and transparent," said mission chief Vladimir Rushailo. He denounced Western countries' persistent criticism of Belarus for intimidating and restricting the opposition ahead of the election.

"Prejudiced statements, harsh announcements, as well warnings from several countries on the eve of the elections about their readiness to take various restrictive measures of a political and economic character against the Republic of Belarus: the CIS observers see these as attempts to influence the course of the election process in its final stage," Rushailo said.