EU in plea as Belarus in major purge

Monday December 20 2010

BRUSSELS, Monday

EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton today demanded the release of Belarus opposition leaders detained after authorities broke up a rally against President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election.

Ashton “condemns the use of violence following yesterday’s presidential elections in Belarus, in particular the beating and detention of several opposition leaders including a number of presidential candidates,” her office said in a statement.

“She calls on the authorities to immediately release those arrested,” it said.

Belarussian authorities detained hundreds of protestors, including seven opposition candidates, after smashing a mass rally protesting fraud in the authoritarian president’s victory on Sunday.

Described as Europe’s last dictator by Washington, Lukashenko received 79.6 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s polls on the back of a massive turnout of over 90 per cent, the central election commission said.

In what appeared to be a massive government crackdown on the opposition, seven of the nine challengers to Lukashenko had been arrested by the police by Monday morning, their representatives told AFP.

“Ashton regrets that last night’s events do not reflect the relative progress we had noted so far in the pre-election period,” her office said.

The statement said Ashton had “taken note” of the election’s preliminary results and was now waiting for a preliminary report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (AFP)