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U.S. Calling For New Vote After Belarus...s Presidential Election

By C.J. Chivers and Steven Lee Myers
THE NEW YORK TIMES


MINSK, BELARUS

The United States declared the results of the presidential election in Belarus invalid on Monday and called for a new race, even as President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko defiantly swept aside criticism and declared himself the winner of a third term.

In an impassioned appearance hours after state television announced that he had won nearly 83 percent of the vote, Lukashenko exuded confidence and said the outcome had “convincingly demonstrated who the Belarussians are and who is the master of our house.”

He said he was unafraid of further economic and political isolation after an election that Washington and international observers described as illegitimate, having been rigged and held under widespread repression.

“The United States does not accept the results of the election,” said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. “We support the call for a new election.”

The principal opposition candidate, Aleksandr Milinkevich, who received 6 percent of the vote, according to the government’s initial count, said, “We are simply not going to recognize the election.”

Several thousand opposition demonstrators once again ignored warnings that they could be arrested or beaten and returned in the evening to a central square in Minsk to continue peaceful protests against the results.

But the crowd that appeared Monday was smaller than that on Sunday, and Milinkevich’s campaign manager, Sergei Kalyakin, acknowledged the difficulties of challenging the deeply entrenched power of Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator. “The number who came to the square was not enough,” he said. “We need 10 times more.”

Reaction to the election has thus far broken along familiar lines, with Western organizations and officials issuing condemnations and in some cases vowing to seek punitive measures against Belarus, while Russia and the representatives of other former Soviet states have celebrated Lukashenko’s victory.

Echoing the Bush administration, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which brought 400 observers here, sharply criticized the election, noting harassment and arrests of opposition candidates, propagandistic coverage on state media and extensive irregularities in the counting of ballots.