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Lukashenko defiant after election

Lukashenko takes a break while talking to the media on Monday  

MINSK, Belarus -- President Alexander Lukashenko says his defiance of the West led to his re-election as president of Belarus, while the U.S. called his victory "meaningless."

The hardline leader accused Western governments of mistaken judgment about his country, and insisted he would continue his Soviet-style economic course.

He warned NATO to stop "sabre-rattling" and reminded European countries Belarus was a staging post for Russian oil and gas exports.

"The West made a mistake concerning the processes in Belarus. It pushed itself into a corner," Lukashenko, 47, told a news conference in Minsk as he began a new five-year term.

He claimed that voting was fair despite the verdict of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that the poll was falsified and undemocratic.

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After a tense election day and count, the Central Election Commission said Lukashenko had a sweeping 75.6 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary count. It said 83.9 percent of voters had turned out.

Lukashenko's chief challenger, Vladimir Goncharik, 61, demanded a second round of voting, claiming widespread poll violations.

Lukashenko told him to "accept the result like a man."

Hundreds took to the streets of the capital again on Monday night to protest at the landslide victory of the man branded "Europe's last dictator."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the vote could not be recognised and that the U.S. would consult with other nations in the OSCE on how to restore democracy in Belarus.

"Regrettably, no part of the electoral process has been transparent or fair. Lukashenko has merely used the facade of elections to engineer a meaningless victory for himself," Reeker said.

"Elections that are neither free nor fair cannot be internationally recognised," he said. There was no immediate U.S. diplomatic action against Lukashenko's government.

Goncharik took 15.4 percent of the vote and centrist politician Sergei Gaidukevich had 2.5 percent, election commission chair Lidia Yermoshina told a news conference Monday. She said the final official results would be released in three days.

"Unfortunately, these presidential elections did not meet international standards for free, democratic elections," Kimmo Kiljunen, coordinator of the joint European monitoring mission, told the Associated Press.

"Maybe the election process was somewhat free, but clearly it was not fair," Kiljunen said.

The U.S. agreed. "Belarussian authorities have demonstrated a clear disregard for both democracy and human rights during this election by avoiding transparency in all states and engaging in a campaign of intimidation," Reeker said.

He said their actions included delaying or hindering participation of international and domestic observers, harassing opposition members and independent journalists and confiscating electoral materials and newspapers. Lukashenko told his news conference now that he had won, he is ready to cooperate with the U.S. and other Western countries -- but on his terms.

He reminded Europeans that his country is a key transit point for Russian oil and gas and other resources on which Europe relies.

"Let's build our relations in such a way that Belarus remains an island of stability and can guarantee the movement of those resources to flourishing Europe," he said at the news conference.

He warned NATO to stop "sabre-rattling" and expanding around Belarus. Neighbouring Poland is already a member and neighbouring Lithuania is heading there, leaving Belarus as a buffer state between the Western alliance and a Russia hostile to its expansion.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, speaking in Copenhagen on Monday, said, "We would like to deal with this in a very serious way." He declined to elaborate.

• Lukashenko claims parliamentary poll win
October 16, 2000
• Belarus poll falsified, say monitors
September 10, 2001
• Observers ban for Belarus poll
September 9, 2001
• Shadow over Belarus poll
September 7, 2001

• Belarus National Assembly

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