Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Belarus Opposition Accused of Plotting


The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus -- The Belarusian security service on Wednesday accused the isolated ex-Soviet nation's opposition party of planning to seize power during this month's presidential election.

Security chief Stepan Sukharenko read a statement on state television alleging that the opposition had plotted to detonate explosives on election day in a crowd of supporters protesting against alleged fraud.

"The opposition planned to seize power," he said.

The allegations were dismissed by the opposition in Belarus, where authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist for more than a decade, stifling dissent and persecuting independent media and opposition parties.

"We do not have any plans to seize power. We'll rally only for the sake of our peaceful goal; to defend our choice," opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich told supporters at a rally late Wednesday. "If force is used, it will be the authorities that are responsible"

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, a nation of 10 million, since 1994. Western nations have dubbed him "Europe's last dictator" and treat him as a pariah.

He is seeking a third term in the March 19 poll, which Milinkevich has said is likely to be fraudulent. He vowed mass protests if that happens.

"The appearance of blood and victims would have untied the hands of the protest organizers," Sukharenko said. "After this, they planned to seize government buildings, railway stations and block the railways to paralyze government bodies' work."

The distribution of fake exit polls was to have signaled the start of the protests, Sukharenko said.

The security service, still known by the Soviet-era acronym KGB, said earlier this week that it had seized fake poll results showing a lead for Milinkevich in the presidential elections.