After Western-funded candidates failed to unseat incumbent Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the March 19 elections, the U.S. and the European Union have intensified a campaign to isolate the country’s government.

On April 10, the European Union slapped a travel ban on 30 officials, including Lukashenko, and threatened further measures. The U.S. has vowed similar action.

Belarusian officials denounced the moves as a rejection of people’s “right to live in their own country with their own wits, not with someone else’s,” and called the EU’s actions “uncivilized.”

The incumbent won 82.6 percent in a four-way race, while his closest opponent, Alexander Milinkevich, received only 6 percent. Western countries, including the U.S., said that the elections were flawed and accused Belarusian authorities of vote-rigging. But 30,000 domestic monitors called the elections “free and fair,” as well as the vast majority of hundreds of foreign observers.

Lukashenko’s popularity, which is acknowledged even by his Western critics, stems from his role in combating corruption and helping to ensure that Belarus not fall into the poverty that has engulfed other parts of the former Soviet Union. He has fought to preserve social programs and to retain public ownership of big enterprises, for example.

His resistance to privatization, as well as his alliance with Russia, is the primary reason the U.S. and Europe wanted to unseat him, several observers said.

“Get busy with restoring order in your own countries,” Lukashenko said at his inauguration, clearly aiming his comments at the West. “Belarus has a robust immune system. Your clumsy attempts to plant the virus of revolution have produced the reverse effect.”

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