'Europe's last dictator' violently crushes Belarus rebellion
Published 21/12/2010 | 05:00
Alexander Lukashenko, the Soviet-style leader of Belarus, has brutally suppressed a post-election rebellion against his rule, living up to his reputation as "Europe's last dictator".
Thousands of baton-wielding riot police crushed an opposition protest in Minsk, the capital, 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 80pc of the vote, he sounded a defiant note. "There is not going to be a revolution in Belarus," the 56 year-old president said. "What was attempted 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 said 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.
"We strongly condemn all election day violence," its 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 candidates opposing Mr Lukashenko were among 600 people arrested. One of them, Vladimir Neklyaev, was badly beaten. Seven men wearing civilian clothing later plucked him from his hospital bed as his wife screamed and drove him off to an unknown destination. Russia, which has been keeping Mr Lukashenko's neo-Soviet regime afloat for years with cheap supplies of oil and gas, refused to condemn the vote, calling it an internal matter.
Belarus has a population of just under 10 million and is sandwiched between Russia and the European Union. It is strategically important for Moscow, which runs oil and gas pipelines through the country.
Mr Lukashenko has latterly tried to court the EU in an attempt to counterbalance Moscow's influence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)