Andrew Osborn








Belarus strongman brutally suppresses post-election uprising, 20th December 2010 16:28

Alexander Lukashenko, the Soviet-style leader of Belarus, has brutally suppressed a post-election rebellion, living up to his reputation as "Europe's last dictator."

Thousands of baton-wielding riot police violently crushed an opposition protest in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Sunday night thwarting an attempt to storm the main government building.

As Mr Lukashenko's officials declared him the winner of Sunday's presidential election with almost 80 per cent, he sounded a defiant note.

"There is not going to be a revolution in Belarus," the 56-year-old autocrat declared. "What was attempted yesterday (Sunday) in Minsk is banditry."

Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 making him Europe's longest serving leader, insisted that the vote had been "honest." But international observers and the opposition disagreed. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe declared that the count in Sunday's vote was "bad or very bad" in half the electoral precincts.

The European Union and the United States weighed in with sharp criticism too.

"The United States strongly condemns all election day violence," the US embassy in Minsk said. "We are especially concerned over the excessive use of force by the authorities including the beating and detention of several presidential candidates."

Seven of the nine presidential candidates opposing the president were arrested, while riot police made more than 600 arrests, according to Mr Lukashenko. One of the candidates, Vladimir Neklyaev, was badly beaten as he led his supporters in protest. Seven men wearing civilian clothing later plucked him from his hospital bed as his wife screamed and drove him off in an unknown direction.

Russia, which has been keeping Mr Lukashenko's regime afloat for years with cheap oil and gas in return for nominal loyalty, refused to condemn the vote, calling it an internal matter. Sandwiched between Russia and the European Union, Mr Lukashenko has kept Belarus stuck in a neo-Soviet time warp. It only has a population of just under ten million people but is strategically important as it hosts Russian oil and gas pipelines supplying the European Union.

Mr Lukashenko has latterly attempted to court the European Union in order to counterbalance Moscow's influence. His harsh reaction to Sunday's protests is however likely to end that rapprochement.