Protests continue in Minsk

ISN SECURITY WATCH (Tuesday, 21 March: 12.30 CET) -As the US and EU warn of further sanctions against Belarus, protests continue over the official election results that put President Alyaksadr Lukashenko in office for a third term.

Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported that several hundred protesters have been spending the night on October Square in Minsk since the election results were officially announced Monday.

According to RFE, minor scuffles have broken out between those camping out in the square and security forces, but there have not been any moves to close the camps themselves.

Belarus election officials say that Lukashenko garnered more than 82 per cent of the vote in an election opponents call a "farce".

Voter turnout was 92 per cent.

The closest candidate in the race, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, urged supporters to fight for the results to be overturned. He won 6 per cent of the vote according to official results.

"They said we want revolution, but what we want is freedom and justice. We have already achieved a colossal victory. People have overcome their fear," Milinkevich told supporters during a rally on Sunday that attracted some 20,000 protesters.

"Millions of people were deceived today during this vote," said Milinkevich, a pro-Western physicist who was chosen by a coalition of pro-democracy parties to challenge the authoritarian government that has led this former Soviet republic since 1994. "We want to live better."

RFE quoted Milinkevich today as saying that authorities "detained a number of top opposition activists".

The US and EU have both suggested that further sanctions will be levied against Belarus in connection with the elections.

Europe's main polling body, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that the vote was not "free and fair". More than 1,200 international observers monitored the vote.

In contrast, Russia congratulated the three-term president and said that the elections "took place according to Belarusian law".

Lukashenko was elected president in 1994. A successful referendum in 1996 extended his term to 2001. He was re-elected that year to another five-year term.

Another referendum in 2004 alloweed Lukashenko to run for office a third time.

(By ISN Security Watch staff, RFE/RL, news agencies)