Belarus leader defies West

Re-elected President Lukashenko rejects U.S., European criticism of vote

By Kim Murphy

Los Angeles Times

Supporters of opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich gather Monday in the main square of Minsk, Belarus, to protest the re-election Sunday of President Alexander Lukashenko. "My heart aches for the Belarusian people," one protester said. (AP / Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Minsk, Belarus - A defiant Alexander Lukashenko, riding high on his victory in an election described as a "farce" by the secretary general of the Council of Europe, declared Monday that "the revolution ... has failed," even as thousands of citizens poured into the streets for a second night to demand new elections.

The United States called for a new vote and the European Union threatened sanctions, but Lukashenko was unmoved.

"Despite a direct foreign dictate against us and colossal pressure from outside, they didn't succeed in

Lukashenko says his opponents' "revolution has failed." The U.S. has called for a new vote. (AP) breaking us," said Lukashenko, referring to his declared 82.6 percent victory in Sunday's balloting.

"The Belarusian people are a nation that can't be controlled."

Opposition leaders said they would challenge the results and called on the public to occupy the streets to demand new elections. Citizens began filing into Oktyabrskaya Square at dusk, but the numbers were about half the 10,000 who gathered on election night to protest the results.

Supporters of Alexander Milinkevich, the pro-Western physicist who is leading a coalition of six democratic parties, admitted Monday that they would need "10 times" the number who turned out Sunday to break the resolve of the regime. The government has arrested more than 400 opposition activists, closed down newspapers, imposed heavy fines for insulting public officials and sent dissidents into lengthy sentences of internal exile.

Hauling a large brass bell and a hefty sound system into the square, activists played protest songs and issued a resolution condemning the vote and demanding new elections July 16.

Midway through the evening, youths began

erecting a half- dozen small dome tents in the center of the square - reminiscent of the tent cities that characterized the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine - and announced their intention to remain until the election results were invalidated.

Not long after the tents began to go up, six police commandos evacuated and closed a nearby McDonald's that was one of the few refuges available from the frigid night air. Trucks full of police and riot troops continued to lurk nearby.

"We will stay here, and we hope that more and more people will come and protect us," said Alexei Zelsky, a 23-year- old engineer, as thousands of cheering, flag-waving supporters chanted "Live Belarus" and "Shame."

"We are tired of being scared," he said.

Near the podium, 66-year-old Ivan Yatsina, a pensioner in a large fur hat and long, dark overcoat, had tears in his eyes as an old Belarusian folk song played and young people around him began singing, clutching hands together and swaying.

"My heart aches for the Belarusian people, how they've been deceived, how they've been led by the nose," Yatsina said.

"These people are patriots."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.