Belarus Promises Vote Will Improve Its Image

MINSK - Belarus' top election official said this month's parliamentary elections, featuring dozens of opposition candidates, would do away with Western stereotypes that depict the country as undemocratic.

"This election is intended to smash stereotypes," Lidia Yermoshina, head of the Central Election Commission, said at a news conference Friday. "Let the election prove to the international community that we are for cooperation and openness. : Let the campaign be as lively as possible."

The European Union, which along with the United States still maintains sanctions against Belarus, will offer closer ties if the Sept. 28 elections prove to be clean, according to a statement to be issued Monday.

The statement said ministers were ready to review "restrictive measures on Belarussian officials and take concrete, positive measures that could lead to a gradual reengagement with Belarus."

It raised the possibility of a meeting of foreign ministers, increased trade and cultural exchanges and a boost in aid.

The Belarussian opposition, split by internal disputes and shut out of the parliament in 2004 elections, has won approval to run about 70 candidates in 110 districts, far more than in past elections.

Opposition politicians have said they were still being denied access to commissions that will oversee the count.

A Sept. 21 meeting of a council grouping parties making up the opposition is to make a final decision on participating and many analysts predict a split.



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