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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lukashenka Looking Like a Lock

(Note: As of this moment, I seem to have my internet blocked. I mean, I am online, but I cannot see my work. I also noticed that several other websites, most of them oppositionist have also been blocked. And this includes my e-mail as well. And hey, I am not even an oppositionist... Interesting, yea?)

Anyway, here is the story from Yahoo News:

Opposition Denounces Belarus Election

Yahoo News

Youth Belarusian supporters of opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich Belarusians wave a banned Belarusian flag
MINSK, Belarus - Thousands of protesters thronged the main square of the Belarusian capital on Sunday in defiance of a government ban, refusing to recognize a presidential vote that appeared all but certain to give the iron-fisted incumbent a third term.

The crowd hooted when a large video screen broadcast a live statement from the Central Election Commission chief, who announced results that showed President Alexander Lukashenko headed toward overwhelming victory in Sunday's vote.

The protesters chanted "Long Live Belarus!" and the name of the main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich. Some waved a national flag that Lukashenko banned in favor of a Soviet-style replacement, while others waved European Union flags. Milinkevich arrived at Oktyabrskaya square later.

"We demand new, honest elections," he told the crowd. "This was a complete farce."

He and another opposition candidate, Alexander Kozulin, called on the crowd, which began thinning under a heavy snow, to return to the square Monday evening — signaling they would try to hold a sustained protest of the sort that brought down long-lived regimes in former Soviet republics including Ukraine and Georgia.

The elections chief, Lidia Yermoshina, said Lukashenko had won 89 percent of the vote, according to returns from nearly one-fifth of polling districts. The results virtually guaranteed a third term for the authoritarian leader who has ruled the republic since 1994.

"Lukashenko cannot have won 80 percent!" he said, referring to exit polls — conducted by two groups the opposition says are loyal to the government and released just hours after voting began — that projected he would win more than 80 percent of the vote.

"Cannot! Cannot! Cannot!" the crowd chanted.

Lukashenko had vowed to prevent the kind of mass rallies that helped bring opposition leaders to power elsewhere.

The use or threat of force neutralized opposition efforts to protest vote results in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan last year, and a government crackdown in Uzbekistan left hundreds dead.

"It will be a peaceful demonstration. We will come out with flowers," Milinkevich said after voting at a school.

Despite the government ban on protests, police did not immediately move to disperse the crowd, which AP reporters estimated at well over 10,000.

People blew horns and shouted "Mi-lin-ke-vich!" — echoing the much larger crowds on Kiev's Independence Square in neighboring Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, which inspired the Belarus opposition.

"I came here to find out the real results of the election," said Veronika Danilyuk, a 19-year-old student. "I believe that he's the only one who can guarantee freedom and fairness to our country."

The Soviet past is palpable in Belarus. The government makes five-year plans, the main state newspaper has "Soviet" in its title and the state security service is officially called the KGB.

Underlying the election is a struggle for regional influence between Russia and the West, which is seen by Lukashenko's government and its backers in Moscow as a major culprit in the political upheaval in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Lukashenko accuses the West of plotting a repeat in Belarus, one of the few former Soviet republics still loyal to the Kremlin.

The elections commission said 81 percent of the 7 million eligible voters had cast ballots by noon, clearing the 50 percent mark needed to make the election valid. Yermoshina said about 30 percent voted last week in early balloting, which is seen by the opposition as especially vulnerable to fraud.

The elections were being overseen by about 400 monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Western countries have forged close ties with the opposition and made no secret of their contempt for the ruler of what Washington calls an outpost of tyranny in Europe. The United States has condemned the campaign as "seriously flawed and tainted."

Lukashenko dismissed international criticism.

"We in Belarus are conducting the election for ourselves," he said. "What is important is that elections take place in accordance with Belarusian legislation. As for sweeping accusations, I've been hearing them for 10 years. I've already gotten used to them."

The state has mounted a campaign of threats and allegations of violent, foreign-backed overthrow plots that its opponents say is aimed at frightening people and justifying the potential use of force against protesters. Security was tightened Sunday near the square and streets were closed to traffic.

On Thursday, the KGB chief accused the opposition of plotting to seize power with foreign help by detonating bombs and sowing chaos on election day, and warned that protesters could be charged with terrorism.

Since 1994, Lukashenko has silenced foes and maintained his grip on power through votes dismissed as illegitimate by the opposition and Western governments. Four opponents disappeared in 1999-2000.

While he is a dictator to his opponents and foreign critics, many Belarusians see the 51-year-old former collective farm manager as having brought stability after the uncertainty that followed the 1991 Soviet collapse. While the landlocked nation, about as big and flat as Kansas, is far from prosperous, the economy is growing and salaries are rising.

Critics say the economic successes are unsustainable, based largely on cheap Russian energy and heavy-handed state intervention reminiscent of the communist era.

"Milinkevich gives us hope that we will pull ourselves out of this swamp," said Nina Karachinskaya, a 38-year-old hairstylist. "The country must go not into the past but the future, and our future is Europe."

Presidential elections in Belarus pronounced valid

With a reported 82% of the vote, passing the 50% mark of registered voters means that Alexander Lukashenka has won for himself a third five-year term as president
MINSK, March 19 (Itar-Tass) - The presidential elections have been pronounced valid in Belarus. According to Republican Central Election Commission, the turnout was 52.7 percent at 12.00, CEC secretary Nikolai Lozovik reported.

According to Belarussian legislation, elections are pronounced valid if over 50 percent of registered voters go to the polls.

Belarus has 7,032,697 registered voters. According to the Central Election Commission, some 30 percent of the electorate participated ahead of time in the voting between March 14 and 18, inclusive. A total of 6,585 polling stations, including 41 abroad, are operating in the republic.

Four hopefuls joined the race for the presidential office. These are deputy to the lower chamber of the Belarussian parliament Sergei Gaidukevich, 51, former rector of Belarussian State University and the present jobless Alexander Kozulin, 51, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, 51, and the only candidate from the united democratic opposition Alexander Milinkevich, 58.

The voting will last till 20.00 local time.

Belarus vote kicked off to a trouble-free start


Voting has been proceeding calmly in Belarus since polls opened here Sunday morning, the head of the country's Central Electoral Commission said.

"The polling stations opened at 8 am [local time (6 am GMT)]. No complications, excesses or disturbances have been spotted [since then]," Lidiya Yermoshina said in televised remarks. "There are few criticisms, and these contain no evidence of law abuse."

Asked to comment on suspected vote rigging cases reported by some of the observers, Yermoshina said: "It looks like certain observers have been poorly trained, and are pulling facts out of context."

She called Sunday's election in Belarus a "celebration of democracy" and said its outcome would depend on "our citizens' wisdom."

Some 20 percent of Belarus' registered voters reportedly cast ballots before election day, raising observers' concerns of possible ballot-box stuffing.

In the election run-up, the country's authorities tightened control over opposition leaders and media to prevent protests against alleged vote rigging, such as the ones that had led to the "rose revolution" in Georgia in 2003 and the "orange revolution" in Ukraine in 2004.

More than 30,000 domestic and 1,300 foreign observers are monitoring Belarus' election, contested by the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator," and the opposition candidates Alexander Milinkevich, Alexander Kozulin and Sergei Gaidukevich.

The polling stations will be open till 8 pm local time (6 pm GMT). Preliminary results are expected in the early hours Monday.