Belarus leader criticises West after protests over election bans

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Andrei Makhovsky
·2 min read
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By Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed Western criticism on Wednesday after his two main challengers were barred from next month's presidential election and police detained over 250 protesters.

The European Union delegation to Belarus said excluding the two rivals "undermines the overall integrity and democratic nature of the elections", and Europe's election watchdog expressed concern about "key aspects of the electoral process".

Defending the police handling of protests over the ban on the two challengers on Tuesday, Lukashenko said countries such as France and the United States had used greater force against protesters and accused the West of double standards.

"Criticise (President Donald) Trump, the U.S. for the lack of democracy. Try to do it with Russia," Lukashenko, 65, said during a meeting with supporters in the city of Vitebsk.

"We don't want anyone to tell us how to live. We know how to do that ourselves. Solve your own problems first, and there are many of them," state-run Belta news agency quoted him as saying.

Lukashenko, who has allowed little dissent in his 26-year rule, is all but certain to win the Aug. 9 election but public frustration is growing over the economy, human rights and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The central election commission refused to register banker Viktor Babariko because of a criminal case against him and barred former ambassador Valery Tsepkalo after disallowing some of the signatures supporting his candidacy.

Their exclusion prompted protests in the capital Minsk and, according to social media reports, in other cities.

Police said over 250 people had been detained and rights group Vesna 96 put the total at 302. The police said six police had been hurt and the state investigative committee launched a criminal case against the protest organisers and protesters.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's election watchdog, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said it would not send monitors for the election after not receiving a "timely invitation."

Expressing concern that Belarus had not addressed problems previously identified in the electoral process, the ODIHR urged Minsk to take "concrete and immediate steps to protect the exercise of fundamental freedoms."

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky, Writing by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)