Thousands protest over Belarus 'vote-rigging'

Shaun Walker
Monday 20 December 2010 01:00 GMT

Tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Minsk last night, attempting to storm the main government building in protest against elections that looked set to give authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko a fourth term in office. Around 40,000 people attempted to enter the building late in the evening, breaking glass doors and windows, but were chased back by riot police.

Earlier, the streets filled with police who used sound grenades to disperse protesters, and one rival candidate was hospitalised after being beaten. Exit polls suggested that Mr Lukashenko, the former collective farm boss who has run Belarus since 1994, was on course to win about 79 per cent of the vote.

The opposition accuses him of years of rights violations and authoritarian policies, describing the country's political system as a throwback to the Soviet Union. But the diverse opposition parties were unable to agree on a single candidate to stand against Mr Lukashenko, who needed 50 per cent 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 have still complained of harassment and intimidation.

Around 30 opposition activists were arrested over the weekend, and the opposition also claims that there was wide-scale vote-rigging at the election.

Mr Lukashenko said earlier in the day that no protests would be permitted, and ruled out talking to the opposition, calling them "bandits and saboteurs". The Belarusian President was talking as he visited a polling station where his ballot was cast by his six-year-old son.

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