'Europe's Last Dictator' Accuses West of Trying to Disrupt Elections

July 7, 2008 - 8:17 PM

Moscow (CNSNews.com) - Shrugging off international criticism, the authoritarian regime ruling the former Soviet republic of Belarus has accused the West of plotting "provocations" to disrupt presidential elections this weekend.

President Alexander Lukashenko, running for reelection on Sunday against three other candidates in the country of 10.3 million people, said foreign nationals were seeking to enter Belarus to destabilize the poll.

In televised remarks, he said he was referring to U.S.-funded observers from Georgia, another former Soviet state now under pro-Western administration.

The government would defend voters, he vowed.

On Thursday, senior security officials alleged they had evidence of a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow the regime, warning that any attempts at disruption would be treated as terrorism.

"Some individuals are infiltrating the country disguised as tourists," KGB chief Stepan Sukhorenko told a press conference in the capital, Minsk. (Unlike Russia and other former Soviet states, Belarus did not change the name of its security service after the fall of the Soviet Union.)

He showed a videotape of an interview with a man he claimed was one of the plotters.

The man said he had undergone training at a camp in Georgia run by Arabs and former Soviet military officers.

He claimed "the Americans" had ordered the plotters to bomb four polling stations at schools in Minsk on Sunday.

Sukhorenko also showed video footage which he said was of Georgian nationals confessing that they were to deliver money and "everything necessary" to stage disturbances on election day.

It was possible other attacks he was unaware of were also being organized, he said.

"Anyone who will take to the streets in a bid to destabilize the situation will face terrorism charges," he warned.

The country's penal code provides for prison terms ranging from eight years to life, or the death penalty, for acts of terrorism.

Belarus' opposition, evidently inspired by recent regime changes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, has been targeted by the state.

Lukashenko, whom the State Department has called "Europe's last dictator," is accused of harassing opposition leaders and Western non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The U.S. condemned the detention of opposition campaign workers Wednesday as well as the seizure of independent newspapers. Earlier, a leading opposition candidate was beaten and arrested.

"All of these actions are clearly inconsistent with the government of Belarus' claims that it intends to hold a free and fair election this Sunday, and also inconsistent with its commitments to the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], as a member of the OSCE," said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

He said the U.S. would be carefully watching the election.

The U.S. would also continue to support and work with what he called "a strong and committed movement in Belarus" to transform the country into "a truly democratic state that respects the rights of citizens."

U.S. and European lawmakers on Wednesday signed a joint statement condemning the "ongoing erosion of freedom by the Belarusian government" and warning that unfair elections "will inevitably result in a further isolation of the Belarusian government from the international community."

The European Union and other bodies also strongly criticized the developments.

A delegation of the European Parliament members and election experts were refused visas and had to cancel their mission, the E.U. said. Journalists have also been denied access to the country.

Minsk dismissed the criticism.

"The vote of the people doesn't need any external recognition," Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said.

In reference to international observers, central electoral commission secretary Nikolai Lozovik said the government did not need the presence of "spies and provocateurs."

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