The White House on Monday refused to recognize the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, joining European leaders and observers in denouncing the authoritarian leader's victory as the product of a climate of fear and repression.
Lukashenko's landslide victory over opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich sparked a second day of protests in Minsk's downtown Oktyabrskaya Square, where thousands of Belarusians cheered as Milinkevich called the incumbent leader's presidency illegal and demanded a rerun of the election.
"This wasn't an election--this was an unconstitutional seizure of power by the authorities," he told thousands of demonstrators braving a second night of bitterly cold temperatures in the capital. "The majority of Belarusians are laughing at these election results."
The Central Election Commission's final count had Lukashenko winning 82 percent of the vote, with Milinkevich's 6 percent. Exit polls by Russia's Levada Center produced a far different picture, which would have forced a runoff: 47 percent for Lukashenko and 26 percent for Milinkevich.
Though the size of demonstrations Sunday and Monday were startling by Belarusian standards, they paled in comparison to the massive rallies that led to pro-democratic revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. However, the opposition movement got a boost from Washington's refusal to recognize Lukashenko's victory as legitimate.
"The United States does not accept the results of the election," said President Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan. "The election campaign was conducted in a climate of fear. It included arrests and beatings and fraud."
McClellan backed the opposition's call for a new election and lauded demonstrators "for their courage and peaceful stand to reclaim their freedom."
He also said that the U.S., together with the European Union, was "prepared to act against those officials responsible for election fraud and human-rights abuses. We also warn authorities in Belarus against threatening or detaining those exercising their political rights in the coming days and beyond,"reports Chicago Tribune.