Lukashenko wins disputed Belarus elections

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Belarus

It appears that Alexander Lukashenko, 51, has won the 2006 Belarus presidential election, and is heading for his third term in office. The official preliminary results are 82.6 percent for Lukashenko and six percent for the main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich, says the BBC. The turnout for the elections was 92.6 percent of Belarus' seven million eligible voters. The final results will be available Monday morning.

Before the elections, the opposition candidates accused Lukashenko of plans for rigging the elections. Several opposition newspapers were closed down and journalists were arrested some weeks before the elections. Many foreign observers, including the Polish, Finnish and Danish delegations, were refused entry into the country before the elections.

Approximately 10 000 supporters of Milinkevich gathered in Oktyabrskaya Square in Belarus' capital, Minsk. According to the BBC, they shouted anti-Lukashenko slogans and waved flags that are banned under Lukashenko's regime. The protests have not involved violence so far.

Lukashenko previously warned people against the start of uprisings similar to recent ones witnessed in the Ukraine and Georgia. He said that people attempting to stage a coup will be treated as terrorists and will be executed. The European Union and the United States have expressed their concerns over allegedly authoritarian rule in Belarus. The EU is planning to deny visas to Belarusian officials with alleged involvement in election rigging, as a response to the denial by Belarus of entry into the country to EU election observers.

Milinkevich demands new elections. According to the BBC, he said, "We demand new, honest elections. This was a complete farce.... We will demand that this election be recognized as invalid, including by international organisations," Milinkevich said, according to the AFP.

Milinkevich notes that the opposition candidates were restricted from the media, and opposition supporters were arrested. Lukashenko, in contrast, has control over Belarus' propaganda machine, including state television. According to the AFP, opposition candidate Milinkevich received in total one hour of TV air time for his campaign. Belarus officials reject his demands, and insist the elections were free and honest.

Lukashenko denied being a dictator, saying "... it's impossible to have a dictator in Europe. Only stupid people would think that." He said the U.S. president George W. Bush is more of a dictator than he himself is.

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