Belarus Opposition Accuses West Over Upcoming Election

MINSK, Belarus (AFP)--A major opposition party leader in Belarus said Western countries will turn a blind eye to fraud in next month's legislative election and recognize a win for the authoritarian regime.

"There is massive fraud being prepared ahead" of the Oct. 28 parliamentary elections," Lyavon Barshchevsky of Belarus's People's Front party said Wednesday.

Consequently, his party would withdraw from the campaign later this month, he added.

However, "very influential Western circles are preparing to recognize, though not without limits, the parliament as a legitimate authority and step up ties with it," Barshchevsky told reporters.

"The policy that is dictated from abroad is to leave the opposition without money, tie it hand and foot, and then say that it is weak," which would justify maintaining relations with the current regime, Barshchevsky said.

"We think that the parliament cannot be recognized, as the electoral situation is even worse than in 2004," he said.

But another opposition leader, former presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich, took a different line.

He said that although the election was unlikely to be honest, it was nevertheless a chance for the opposition to make itself heard.

"If the opposition makes it to parliament - which Belarussian leader ( Alexander Lukashenko) openly pledged - it will mean they were appointed," he said.

"But even then we will have what we have not had in a dozen years - opposition represented in the authorities," Milinkevich told the Vremya Novostei daily.

Only 46 out of 1,900 opposition applicants have managed to join local electoral commissions for the Oct. 28 vote, the Vyasna rights group said.

European Union officials said Saturday that EU nations, pushed by Poland, were considering lifting sanctions against Belarus following the release of key opposition figures there.

The move came as Russia put pressure on the former Soviet satellite to recognize the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In August, the EU welcomed the release of a high-profile Belarus political prisoner, former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin.

He had been jailed in 2006 for leading a protest over alleged corruption in the election that returned Lukashenko to power that year.

Later in August, Belarus released its last two political prisoners.

With EU economic and visa sanctions still in place, Lukashenko - described as "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, which has adopted similar sanctions - is seeking to improve his image ahead of its parliamentary elections.



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