Belarus opposition plans election day protest

YURAS KARMANAU Associated Press Writer

MINSK, Belarus-Belarus' opposition said Sunday that it would hold a protest on the day of parliamentary elections to object to what they say has been an unfair campaign.

Some opposition activists had called for boycotting the elections. But opposition leaders who took part in a congress of the United Democratic Forces decided instead to protest in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, after the polls close Sept. 28.

The congress decided that 70 opposition candidates should stay in the race to gather evidence of official foul play. Another 35 opposition candidates have already withdrawn.

Opposition leaders have accused President Alexander Lukashenko's government of breaking up opposition rallies and hampering the distribution of campaign materials. Authorities also kept most opposition activists from monitoring the vote count, allowing only a handful of opposition representatives to take seats on local election commissions.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is observing the elections, said Friday that the campaign is being conducted in a "strictly controlled atmosphere."

The opposition is continuing to participate even though it appears to harbor little hope of victory.

"We haven't announced a boycott and a full withdrawal of our candidates only to gather and present evidence of falsifying the voting results," said Belarusian Popular Front leader Lyavon Barshchevsky.

A total of 282 candidates are contesting 110 seats in the legislature.

Lukashenko has been called "Europe's last dictator" in the West for his crackdown on the political opposition and news reporting. The United States and the European Union have rejected the results of elections that have kept him in power since 1994, and have introduced economic sanctions and a travel ban against members of the Belarusian government.

Lukashenko has made some efforts to improve ties with the West in recent months, releasing political prisoners and pledging to hold fair elections. He warned the West on Saturday that he will halt his efforts to improve ties with the West if it fails to recognize the vote results as legitimate.



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