'Dictator' re-elected as rival beaten by riot police
THE leader of Belarus, dubbed "the last dictator in Europe", won a fourth term in office yesterday as a rival candidate was beaten unconscious by riot police.
In elections that the opposition decried as rigged, early exit polls suggested that Alexander Lukashenko, the former collective farm boss who has run Belarus since 1994, won with 79.1pc of the vote.
Riot police broke up a march by the opposition in the capital, Minsk, and beat its leader, Vladimir Neklyayev. The demonstrators planned to protest against the re-election of Lukashenko.
A press spokeswoman for Mr Neklyayev, a 64-year-old poet, said he had been taken to hospital unconscious and was being treated for head injuries.
The opposition accuse Mr Lukashenko of years of rights violations and authoritarian politics, and describe the country's political system as a throwback to the Soviet Union.
However, the opposition parties were unable to agree on a single candidate to stand against Mr Lukashenko, who needs 50pc of the vote to avoid a second round.
Although the nine opposition candidates were given more access to the media than in previous elections, they still complained of intimidation. Around 30 opposition activists were arrested at the weekend.
Belarus, which sits on vital energy transit routes between Russia and Europe, has been viewed as a close ally of Moscow, but in the past two years Mr Lukashenko has fallen out with the Kremlin and appeared to want to woo the West.(©Independent News Service)