Belarus opposition: Government committed massive vote fraud

Minsk/Kiev - Officials loyal to Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko committed massive vote fraud in a recent elections, leaders of the country's opposition said Monday.

"There were millions of cases of falsification," said Aleksander Milinkevich, leader of the Belarusian opposition. "But with this vote fraud the authorities are signing their own death warrant."

Belarusians nation-wide went to the polls on Sunday to select representatives for village and city councils. More than 21,000 seats were technically up for grabs.

Almost all the seats were uncontested however, or simply races between candidates loyal to Lukashenko. Belarus' embattled opposition fielded only around 350 candidates.

No candidate supported by Belarus' top two opposition political parties, the Belarusian National Front (BNF) and Za Svobodu (For Freedom), was elected to office as a result of a government campaign to fudge the vote result against them, Milinkevich said, according to a Belapan news agency report.

"What we saw in Belarus on April 25, is not only impossible to call a free and fair election, but even an election at all," said Aleksei Yankevich, BNF party leader.

The most common technique used by the government to fix the election result was a campaign by state officials of visiting people at home to force them to cast ballots ahead of the Sunday vote, Yankevich said, according to Belapan.

More than 30 opposition candidates withdrew from the election to protest against the tactic.

Milinkevich cited the defeat of one of the BNF's strongest candidates, Ivan Shego in the race for a council seat in the central city Slonim, as a case in point.

"He (Shego) won the ballot count at the voting sites, and also in the ballot count for people voting at home. But somehow in Slonim four times as many people cast early ballots against his (Shego's) opponent," Milinkevich alleged.

Lydia Yermoshina, spokeswoman for Belarus' Central Election Commission, at a Minsk press conference rejected opposition claims the election had been fixed, saying "there in fact were very few complaints throughout the vote."

Opposition allegations of vote fraud, she argued, amounted to little more than sour grapes, she said.

"Many politicians do it not because they are trying to find the reasons for their defeat," Yeromoshina said, in comments reported by Interfax. "It is a typical (opposition) attempt to harm the state."

Turnout nationwide was high at 79 per cent, she said.

Ballot counts were still in progress and formal results would be made public on Monday evening at the earliest, Yermoshina said.


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