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Lukashenko Wins His Fourth Election

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko won a fourth term on Monday after a landslide victory marred by a violent police crackdown on mass protests and the arrest of opposition challengers.

Early Monday the state electoral commission said Lukashenko had won 79.7 percent with Sannikov, his closest rival, garnering only 1.6 percent.

Belarus police Monday arrested hundreds of protestors. The numbers of demonstrators at a rally in central Minsk swelled to tens of thousands at one point, AFP correspondents reported, with some of them trying to storm government buildings and smashing the glass doors.

Media correspondents’ reports have seen several demonstrators beaten with truncheons.

Nine candidates were running against Lukashenko. Belarus police arrested at least four of them -Sannikov, Nikolai Statkevich, Rygor Katusev and Vitaly Rymanshevsky, their party spokespeople told Reuters.

Lukashenko, 56, runs a command economy and has ruled the country of about 10 million with an iron fist since 1994, often jailing opponents and muzzling independent media while offering generous welfare and pensions to his citizens.

No one, he has said, should expect him to leave office.

“There will definitely be political changes … but no change of power in Belarus,” he told reporters in Moscow last week.

The agreement, signed in Moscow Dec. 9, signals that Minsk can continue to refine cheap Russian oil and sell it to Europe at a profit. The practice has long lubricated Belarus’ economy and allowed Lukashenko to leave much of it unreformed and offering Soviet-style state handouts.

“Russia will continue to invest in President Lukashenko because there is no danger of a color revolution with him,” Sergei Markov, a State Duma deputy with United Russia, said to The Moscow Times.

Both Russia and the International Monetary Fund have injected millions of dollars into Belarus, sending its foreign debt soaring. Minsk owed some US$25.6 billion in October, while foreign currency reserves stood at just US$2.8 billion on Dec. 1, according to the Belarussian central bank.

According to the documents published in WikiLeaks, Lukashenko is the richest man of Belarus. His personal worth is amounted to US$9 billion.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010, released earlier this week, identified Belarus as an “authoritarian regime,” ranking it at 130, sandwiched between Gambia and Angola.

By comparison, the same report characterized Russia as a “hybrid regime” and ranked the country at 107, above Nepal but below Kyrgyzstan.

The OSCE had said on Sunday that the election already appeared “better” than in 2006.

The European Union has dangled the prospect of financial aid if Sunday’s vote is deemed fair. The EU will be watching carefully the verdict on Monday of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has fielded a small army of election monitors across the country.

The current Belarusian economic model, governed by annual and five-year plans “becomes non-competitive even in post-Soviet countries,” RIA Novosti quoted IMF representative in Belarus Natalia Kolyadina as saying.

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