EU threatens sanctions over Belarus poll

Nick Paton Walsh in Minsk and Tom Parfitt in Moscow

The Guardian

The European Union threatened further sanctions against Belarus yesterday as international observers condemned Sunday's re-election of the authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, saying the poll had been undemocratic.

Election observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote did not meet international standards. The opposition had suffered "a pattern of intimidation" in the run up to the election, they reported.

The US supported the call for new elections and the EU said it was considering "targeted sanctions", such as denying Belarusian officials visas - senior politicians are already barred - and targeting bank accounts. Ursula Plassnik, foreign minister for Austria, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said the opposition had been "systematically intimidated".

Mr Lukashenko, however, who held on to the presidency with 82.6% of the vote, said his landslide was legitimate and showed "who's the boss". Alcee Hastings, who led the OSCE mission, said he had "allowed state authority to be used in a manner that did not allow for free and fair elections", citing the arrest of dozens of opposition activists before the vote.

Supporters of the main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, were yesterday preparing for a second night of protest in the capital, Minsk. Mr Milinkevich, who officially polled 6%, said Mr Lukashenko was "an illegal, illegitimate president".