Belarus leader demands West OK vote


Associated Press

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has cast upcoming elections as a test of his own commitment to democracy. Now he is demanding the West give him a passing grade.

Lukashenko indicated Saturday that he will halt his efforts to improve ties with the United States and Europe if the West refuses to recognize the official results of the Sept. 28 parliamentary elections.

"If even this time the elections turn out to be undemocratic, we will halt all discussions with the West," Lukashenko said at a provincial harvest festival in the ex-Soviet republic of 10 million.

Lukashenko's treatment of opponents and intolerance of criticism have made him a pariah in the West, drawing U.S. and European Union travel and financial sanctions. The U.S. and EU have rejected the results of elections that have kept him in power since 1994.

Lukashenko has made some efforts to improve ties with the West in recent months, releasing inmates widely considered political prisoners, and has vowed to hold fair elections.

"These are unprecedentedly free elections, elections by the rules of the West," he said Saturday.

But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is observing the elections, said Friday that the campaign has been marked by "weak activity" and is being conducted in a "strictly controlled atmosphere."

Opposition candidates have started withdrawing from the campaign, saying authorities are pressuring them.

"The authorities have not allowed a full-fledged campaign, repression is continuing," said Stanislav Bogdankevich, a leader of the opposition United Civil Party.



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