Belarus leader mocks opponents, says election ready

President Alexander Lukashenko has staked his hopes on the Sept. 28 vote as a way to improve relations with the European Union.

President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday mocked opposition reservations about next week's parliamentary election and reiterated that the country met all Western conditions for a free and fair contest.

Lukashenko, long accused of hounding opponents and rigging elections, has staked his hopes on the Sept. 28 vote as a way to improve relations with the United States and European Union. Both see it as a test of Belarus's democratic credentials.

No poll in Belarus since the mid-1990s has been judged free and fair in the West. Most opposition candidates have been allowed on the ballot this time, but its leaders complain they are not allowed access to the overseeing of the count.

Lukashenko, quoted by news agencies at a meeting of election officials, said all steps had been taken to hold a vote "in open, honest and democratic fashion".

"Most importantly, we shut our eyes to the pranks of opposition candidates so they couldn't run off and shed tears about not being allowed to run.

"We will allow no one to undermine the situation, whatever the international reaction... The election is not even under way and the opposition is already threatening a boycott and collecting tents for a new Ukrainian-style protest.

"They have no idea how to conceal their helplessness and stop bringing shame upon themselves by exposing to the world their lack of authority at home. They have to justify themselves to their sponsors."

Lukashenko said the make-up of commissions conducting the count was up to their chairman. At the weekend, he vowed to halt dialogue with the West if it gave no endorsement to the vote.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, allowed to send hundreds of observers for the vote, says it has received no assurances about being able to witness the count.

It also says the campaign has failed to give voters a clear idea of issues or candidates.

Belarus's liberal and nationalist opposition overcame its divisions at the weekend and agreed to press on with the campaign, rejecting proposals by some activists for a boycott. [ID:nLL308428]

Veteran opposition figure Anatoly Lebedko urged candidates to produce evidence of vote-rigging and to launch peaceful protests if the election proved to be subject to mass cheating.

The opposition, shut out of parliament in the last election in 2004, is best known in the capital, where alternative information sources are more readily available. Some activists say it could win 20-30 of 110 seats in a fair vote.

Lukashenko, broadly popular in the country of 10 million, is banned from Western countries, but has sought better ties after quarrelling with traditional ally Russia over energy prices.

Belarussian courts last month released the last detainees deemed "political prisoners".




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