Beat Down In Belarus

It was a good day for Europe’s last dictator, not so much for democracy.

Belarus election ends in protests, police crackdown

Following a night of violence and mass arrests in Minsk, Belarus, the state-dominated media on Monday declared that Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarussian leader who’s often described as “Europe’s last dictator,” has been reelected to an unprecedented fourth term with a 79.7 percent majority of the votes. None of his eight opponents won more than 3 percent.

After state-conducted exit polls indicated the scope of Mr. Lukashenko’s triumph Sunday night, an estimated 20,000 opposition supporters attempted to rally on Minsk’s central Independence Square to protest what they allege to be systematic fraud in the electoral process – as they did under almost identical circumstances in previous presidential polls four years ago.

But this time, authorities reacted with a harshness unseen in the past. An attempt by some opposition supporters to storm the Central Electoral Commission headquarters failed to get past massed ranks of police. Special riot squads then charged into the crowd, using batons and stun grenades, arresting 600 and injuring dozens.

During the night, Belarus’s KGB security forces swept through Minsk, arresting six opposition candidates along with scores of their supporters in an operation that continued in full swing Monday. Two of the candidates, Nikolai Statkevich and Vladimir Neklyaev, claimed they were beaten by special police before being taken to prison. The arrested leaders could face jail terms of up to 15 years.

See also:
Alexander Lukashenko wins Belarus’ presidential election with 79.67% of the vote
U.S. Condemns Belarus Crackdowns, Rejects Election Results
Belarus President Lukashenko Clamps Down on Protests After Election Win
The Moscow Power Games Behind Belarus’ Election Crackdown
Belarus Leader Shrugs Off Accusations of Election Fraud, Violence
U.S. condemns Belarus violence, says poll in doubt
Belarus protests: Your views
Lukashenko, bogeyman for both West and Russia
Lukashenka uncovered
Belarus is a kleptocratic arms bazaar that the EU needs to tackle
Civil unrest in Minsk on 19 December ‘nothing to do with elections’

I’m not sure why countries like Belarus even bother to hold elections at all. It’s not like they’re fooling anyone into thinking the election is legitimate.

/our American democracy may not be perfect, but at least our losing electoral candidates don’t get thrown in prison

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The World’s Hottest New Vacation Destination

And by hottest, I mean radioactive hot. Forget the suntan lotion, bring a dosimeter.

Kiev Sees Chernobyl as Tourist Hot Spot

Ukraine’s government wants to turn Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, into a tourism hotspot.

Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Ministry said Monday it is working on a plan to open the area around the defunct plant—where a reactor exploded on April 26, 1986, spreading radiation across the then-Soviet states of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia—to visitors starting next month.

The ministry said radiation levels in certain parts of the so-called exclusion zone, which stretches 30 kilometers (19 miles) around the exploded reactor, were now returning to normal levels. Visitors will be able to take in views of the nuclear plant, as well as towns and villages that were abandoned in the disaster’s aftermath.

New official tour operators would have to meet strict criteria to be allowed to operate, said Yulia Yurshova, a spokesperson for the Emergency Situations Ministry, as straying from the route can be dangerous because of the threat of collapsing buildings and varying radiation levels.

“The Chernobyl zone isn’t as scary as the whole world thinks,” said Ms. Yurshova. “We want to work with big tour operators and attract Western tourists, from whom there’s great demand.”

See also:
Chernobyl: now open to tourists
Holiday in Chernobyl: Ukraine to lift restrictions on disaster site
Ukraine plans to open Chernobyl, site of massive nuclear disaster, open to tourists in 2011
Chernobyl to be ‘extreme’ tourism site
Ukraine to open Chernobyl zone to tourists
Tourists invited to holiday in Chernobyl
Chernobyl as tourist attraction
Ukraine’s newest tourist destination: Chernobyl
Chernobyl Accident
Chernobyl disaster

What’s not to like? There’s plenty of abandoned buildings and desolate landscape to see. It’s fun for the whole family, bring the kids! The souvenir shop is to die for.

/it’s bad enough that they’re going to let tourists into the exclusion zone to dose up on radiation, but just think of the poor tour guides that will have to go back in day after day to make a living

Coups Have Consequences

Apparently, the interim government of Kyrgyzstan, that came to power in a coup two months ago, has lost control of parts of the country and, so far, their pleas for the Russians to intervene and bail them out are being rebuffed. And so, the chaos and carnage continues to unfold.

Kyrgyzstan to get aid, no troops from regional security group

A Moscow-led security organization Monday recommended offering logistical support and goods such as fuel to Kyrgyzstan rather than peacekeeping troops to help stop ethnic violence in the Central Asian country.

Kyrgyzstan law enforcement organizations, with some help, can control the rioting that began Thursday in Osh, said Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which is made up of several former Soviet republics, including Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

Bordyuzha met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday as officials announced that the death toll from the rioting in southern Kyrgyzstan had increased to at least 125, with more than 1,200 injured. Tens of thousands of people have fled the violence, many of them ethnic Uzbeks moving either into Uzbekistan or massing at the border.

“The current situation in Kyrgyzstan is intolerable, people have been killed, blood is being shed, and mass ethnic unrest is continuing,” Medvedev said, Interfax news agency reported. “This is extremely dangerous to that region, and therefore anything possible should be done to prevent such developments.”

Medvedev also indicated that the security organization’s leaders may need to reconvene if the situation worsens. He said he had shared the same message with Roza Otunbayeva, prime minister of the interim government in Kyrgyzstan. On Saturday, Moscow rejected Otunbayeva’s request to send troops to quash the riots.

But former Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, speaking to reporters in Belarus on Monday, said bringing the situation back to normal required international forces. The interim government has lost control, said Bakiyev, who was ousted in a coup in April.

In Jalal-Abad, north of Osh, mobs continued to loot and burn houses and kill people.

See also:
Uzbeks flee Kyrgyzstan, seek safety at border
Thousands flee ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan
“Slaughter” in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan violence: ‘I saw two neighbours shot dead before my eyes’
Kyrgyzstan’s unrest exposes heavy political jockeying
UN slams Kyrgyzstan violence
Red Cross: No Quick End to Kyrgyzstan Crisis
Russian-led Security Group Considers Intervention in Kyrgyzstan
Russia Weighs Pleas to Step In as Refugees Flee Kyrgyzstan
Coup In Kyrgyzstan?

Let’s hope this doesn’t totally spin out of control and spread countrywide.

/the Transit Center at Manas, a key U.S. airbase, crucial to our logistics chain into Afghanistan, is located near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek

A Whiff of Warsaw Pact

Just a day after convincing Kyrgyzstan it kick the U.S. out of Manas Air Base, a vital link in our supply chain for Afghanistan, Russia announced the formation of a new regional military force.

Post-Soviet nations to form military force

A Russian-led bloc of post-Soviet nations has agreed to establish a rapid-reaction military force to combat terrorists and respond to regional emergencies, Russian media reported Wednesday.

The decision came a day after reports that Kyrgyzstan is planning to close a strategically important U.S. military base that Washington uses to transport troops and supplies into Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the Collective Security Treaty Organization — made up of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan — decided on the rapid-reaction force at a Kremlin summit, the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

The group’s security council “spent a long time discussing the central issue of forming collective reaction forces and, generally, of rapid reaction to possible threats,” said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, according to Russian news agency Interfax.

“Everyone agreed that the formation of joint forces is necessary,” he said.

. . .

Russian media reported that the force will be used to fight military aggressors, conduct anti-terror operations, battle regional drug trafficking and respond to natural disasters. The force will be based in Russia under a single command, with member nations contributing military units.

See also:
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)
Russia Buys A Vowel In Kyrgyzstan

/the Russian Bear stirs, has Obama finished his waffle?