Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on winning a fourth term as the U.S. rejected the official election results and condemned a crackdown on opposition demonstrators.
More than 580 people, including several opposition leaders, remain in jail after protesting the results of the Dec. 19 vote, state-run Russian news wire RIA Novosti reported today, citing the Belarus Interior Ministry. A Russian reporter who was detained during the riots has gone on a hunger strike, demanding access to the Russian consulate, Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvi said.
“It was an extraordinary day for democracy, which resulted in the re-election of the great European leader,” Chavez said in a statement issued in Caracas late yesterday. “Lukashenko knows how to lead the glorious motherland to independence, putting the sacred interests of his people ahead of the narrow-minded intentions of the world powers.”
Chavez, who has courted allies among leaders opposed to the U.S. including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, signed an agreement with Lukashenko in March to create a gas venture between Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company, and Belarus’s Belarusneft to explore and extract natural gas at fields in eastern Venezuela.
Thousands rioted on Independence Square in the center of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, after the election. Protesters smashed windows and chanted slogans including “Long live Belarus,” footage on Google Inc.’s YouTube showed.
Belarus, an ex-Soviet republic of 10 million that borders Russia and three European Union states, has been ruled since 1994 by Lukashenko, 56. The U.S. administration of former President George W. Bush dubbed Lukashenko’s regime “the last dictatorship in Europe.”
According to the Belarus Central Election Commission’s website, Lukashenko won 79.7 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election. The next-biggest tally was the 6.5 percent of voters who selected “none of the above,” Interfax reported.
The U.S. “cannot accept as legitimate” the results and calls on the Belarus authorities to release demonstrators, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday.
The U.S. endorsed a report by the observer mission from the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which concluded that voting and counting were not free, fair or transparent. The OSCE said the process was “marred by the detention of most presidential candidates and hundreds of activists.”
-- Editors: Alan Crawford, Leon Mangasarian