Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Russia praises Belarus vote, rejects OSCE criticism
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Tuesday praised Belarus's parliamentary election which strengthened the grip of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and was dismissed as a sham in the West, and accused international observers of political bias.
Sunday's vote increased the isolation of Lukashenko, in power since 1994, from Europe and the United States, which have punished his lack of tolerance for dissent with sanctions.
"We are certain that Belarussian citizens were able to make their conscious choice," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
Russian observers and monitors from a grouping of former Soviet republics found the election "was conducted freely, openly, in a calm atmosphere and with a high turnout," the statement said.
It said monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who said the election was not free and fair, had taken a "politicised approach".
Lukashenko's alienation from the West has drawn Belarus deeper into the orbit of Moscow, which sees it as a buffer between Russia and NATO and is seeking to strengthen economic alliances among former Soviet republics.
"Russia will continue to actively develop bilateral relations with the brotherly Republic of Belarus in the interests of the two countries and their people," the Foreign Ministry statement said.
OSCE monitors said many opposition figures had been blocked from taking part in the poll. European Union officials said the election "took place against the background of an overall climate of repression and intimidation".
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Janet Lawrence)