Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Lukashenka Eyes Presidency Of Post-Putin Russian - Belarusian Authoritarian Union, Eight Tents Are Set Up, And The West Fails To Agree On A Response

... "On Monday night about eight tents were erected in the central square [of Minsk] for protesters planning to spend the night. Mr Milinkevich urged those who could to stay as long as possible but the protests seemed unlikely to escalate to the levels that brought about revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia.

Mr Milinkevich said opposition exit polls suggested the Belarus president won less than the 50 per cent required to secure victory in a single round of voting, though official figures yesterday gave him 82.6 per cent. The opposition said their data showed Mr Milinkevich scored 30 per cent, five times his official total.

Mr Lukashenko’s victory is likely to increase the international isolation of a regime the US has labelled "Europe’s last dictatorship". European Union foreign ministers denounced the elections as "neither free nor fair". Though EU ministers failed to agree on an immediate response, targeted sanctions, including broadening of existing visa bans on top Belarusan officials, as well as possible asset freezes, are likely to be agreed next month.

The US on Monday supported the opposition’s call for a new election. Washington also said it would co-ordinate "serious appropriate measures" with the EU to be taken against officials responsible for election fraud and human rights abuses. A State Department spokesman said specific actions would be taken against individuals as well as the regime, but he did not say what those sanctions might be....

Diplomats and civil society groups have warned that Mr Lukashenko, in power for 12 years, is likely to use a new five-year term to crush remaining opposition and independent media. "What is important is the trend away from democracy and towards dictatorship and a totalitarian regime," said one senior Western diplomat in Minsk. "The significance of the election lies in the psychological impact it will have on Mr Lukashenko."

The Belarus president on Monday exuded confidence, telling a Soviet-style victory press conference the elections were "honest and free".

"The revolutionary project that was talked about and was prepared in Belarus has not happened," he said. He dismissed demonstrators in Minsk as "freaks" and said the idea of international sanctions against Belarus was "absurd"."

Neil Buckley, Stefan Wagstyl, Daniel Dombey "Belarusian protest against Lukashenko ebbs away" Financial Times March 21, 2006


..."Russia is keen to bolster military ties with its partner to the west [Belarus]. Moscow is interested in using Belarussian military facilities and negotiations have begun on the opening of an airbase in Belarus.

But a much-touted union between Russia and Belarus has been slow to take shape.

Talks on the alliance, which has been in the pipeline for more than a decade, have stalled because Mr Putin and Mr Lukashenko cannot agree on the form it should take, according to Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Moscow Centre, a leading think-tank.

"Huge differences in their economies mean the two would not be equal partners," he told the BBC. "Also, Lukashenko is still hoping to become head of the union, but Putin would not want that."

Most analysts agree that there is little chemistry between the two heads of state.

"It is obvious that [Putin] and Lukashenko are like close relatives who actually can't stand each other," writes Yulia Kalinina in Monday's Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. "At their meetings, they smile and kiss, but when they've departed they lean against the wall, breathe a sigh of relief and say 'Ugh!'"

The difficulty now for Mr Putin is steering a path between supporting a regime run by a man dubbed by Washington as "Europe's last dictator" and appeasing members of the G8, whose presidency he currently holds.

"Moscow's continuing ties with Belarus cast doubt on its own democratic intentions," said Yevgeny Volk. "And that leaves it open to serious criticism for its support of Lukashenko's administration.""

Chloe Arnold "Belarus: Russia's awkward ally" BBC News Moscow March 20, 2006.



MOSCOW, March 20 (Itar-Tass) - "Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko believes it is possible to introduce the post of president of the Union State of Russia and Belarus.

"I don't rule out such a possibility, everything's possible in life," Lukashenko told a news conference in Minsk.

He also said it is possible to create one army, secret service and law-enforcement of Belarus and Russia.

However, he noted that at present, the Union State places an emphasis on economic integration. He added that others countries should join this process - the development of the union state.

"If Russians are interested in the expansion of the union state, we are ready to join it," Lukashenko said."

ITAR-TASS News Agency "Post of Russia-Belarus president possible - Alexander Lukashenko" March 20, 2006



MOSCOW, March 21 (Itar-Tass) -- The incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko’s victory in the Belarussian presidential election may speed up the creation of the Russia-Belarus Union State, Russian Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov has said.

“Now, that he has received the people’s firm and vast support, the Belarussian president may be more active in transforming positions on such issues as a common currency and many others,” Mironov told the media on Tuesday. “It will be realistic to expect some sort of an articulate decision on the Union State Constituent Act and some other practical results by the end of the year.”

The Russian Federation Council speaker said he understood and accepted the choice of the Belarussian people.

As for the stance of some western countries and international organizations critical of the Belarussian election, he said “it does not matter at all.”

“Whether some may like it or not, the choice of the Belarussian people is a reality,” Mironov said.

ITAR-TASS News Agency "Lukashenko’s win may speed up Union State creation" March 21, 2006



... "At least 500 protesters, most of them young people, rallied to Milinkevich's call for fresh elections and camped in tents on October Square overnight in an action reminiscent of the highly-organized 2004 "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine.

"I came here to support these young people. In previous years I was marching under the red flags and I think it was wrong. That's why I am here. I want my grandchildren to be proud of me," 66-year-old pensioner Pavel Rusetsky said.

A 34-year-old taxi driver, who would give only his first name, Dima, brought tea and blankets to those demonstrating despite the cold and sleet.

"Lukashenko has re-elected himself as always. These are courageous people and I want to help them," he said." ...

Olena Horodetska "Protesters defy Lukashenko over poll" The Boston Globe
March 21, 2006 via Boston.com



"Through the [second] night, protesters stood in a human chain around a dozen small tents set up in the square, locking arms to protect the tiny encampment. Others tried to bring in blankets, food and hot beverages that help them endure a round-the-clock vigil in freezing temperatures, but were often detained by police."

"I believe that the repression will not stop us," said Olena Savina, a 21-year-old journalism student who said police detained her for about an hour and took away the food and sleeping mats she was bringing to the square. "I believe that there will be more and more of us."

"We plan to stay here ... until the moment when the vote is pronounced falsified, when the authorities admit this and a new election is announced," said a 21-year-old student who gave his name only as Alexander, one of a dozen people sitting among the tents."

Minsk, Belarus lies in physical ruins in 1945 -- its center largely destroyed by the advancing and retreating Nazis. Sixty-one years later, Belarusian President Lukashenka is trying to snuff out the courageous 2006 Minsk Spring and restore the nation's, and its citizens', isolation as he plots to bring a "decadent" Russia, and then Eastern and Central Europe, into his Authoritarian orbit.

Photo credit: Archival. National Museum of Belarus. With thanks.


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