Russia finally congratulates Belarus strongman

25th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday congratulated his Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on his election to a fourth term, a week after polls lambasted by Western observers.

Some EU foreign ministers have said engaging with Lukashenko is now a waste of time after the contested polls and a harsh crackdown on the opposition that has seen hundreds arrested following protests on election night.

In a conspicously dry statement quoted by Russian news agencies, Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said the Kremlin chief has sent a letter to formally congratulate Lukashenko on his election victory.

"This letter was dispatched, taking into account the official publication of the results by the Belarus election commission and the report by Russian election commission chief Vladimir Churov about the conclusions of observers," Timakova said.

No further details were given and the contents of the letter were not disclosed.

The Belarus presidency however published one curt sentence from the letter on its website, quoting Medvedev as telling Lukashenko: "I wish you success and the brotherly Belarussian people peace and prosperity."

Belarus' central election commission on Friday announced official election results, giving Lukashenko victory with 79.6 percent with his nearest challenger on a meagre 2.4 percent.

Medvedev earlier this week described the elections as an "internal affair" for Belarus, amid mounting Western outrage over the beating and arrest of protestors by the security forces on the night of December 19.

The hundreds arrested include five of the nine candidates who challenged Lukashenko and a large proportion of the country's leading opposition political and media figures.

They were protesting against an election OSCE observers said was still "a considerable way" from democratic standards and marred by multiple violations in the counting process.

Medvedev's reaction was nonetheless considerably less effusive, or rapid, than some of the closest friends of the maverick Belarussian strongman.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself re-elected in disputed 2009 polls that sparked mass protests, described the Belarus ballot as a "golden page in the honourable history" of the Belarussian people, Iranian media said.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hailed the victory of a "great European leader" just one day after the vote, the foreign ministry said.

Medvedev had bickered with the Belarussian leader in the months running up to the polls but the Kremlin granted last-minute economic concessions to Lukashenko ahead of the elections.

However the reaction from the West has been of a completely different nature.

The foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Sweden said in an article published Friday that the elections had "no democratic legitimacy" and the "counting of votes turned into a charade".

"Continued positive engagement with Mr Lukashenko at the moment seems to be a waste of time and money," they said.

European Union diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also threatened to review ties with the regime of Lukashenko, once condemned as Europe's last dictator by Washington.

In Minsk, Belarus has detained the head of its air force Major General Igor Azarenok on suspicion of abuse of authority, the defence ministry said, without saying if the arrest had any link to the crackdown.

© 2010 AFP

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