Belarus leader confident West will endorse election

MINSK, Sept 23 (Reuters) - President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday he was confident Belarus's upcoming parliamentary election would win Western endorsement and lead to normalised relations with Europe and the United States

Lukashenko, accused by Western countries of crushing basic rights during 14 years in power, hopes this Sunday's election will secure acceptance.

The United States and European Union say an election deemed free and fair would be a key step. No poll in Belarus since the mid-1990s has been given such a assessment.

Addressing ambassadors from Luxembourg, Sweden, Britain and Slovakia amongst others who were presenting their credentials, Lukashenko repeated that Belarus had met all demands presented by its Western critics.

"We don't want to turn our election into a litmus test. But America, a great country, insisted and said it would see how the election went," local news agencies quoted him as saying.

Lukashenko, broadly popular in the country of 10 million, is banned from Western countries on grounds he rigged his 2006 re-election. He has sought better ties, especially with the EU, after rowing with traditional ally Russia over energy prices.

"If Europe and America see the elections as a criterion, then let me congratulate you. After the election, we will have the warmest possible relations," he said.

And he added: "While you are on assignment here, let's normalise Belarus's relations with the EU. But we will not go on our knees begging for entry to the common European home."

Unlike previous elections, most opposition candidates have been allowed onto Sunday's ballot, but its leaders complain they are not allowed access to the overseeing of the count.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent hundreds of observers, but says it also has had no assurances they will be able to witness the count. It also says the campaign has lacked a competitive spirit and failed to give voters a clear idea of issues or candidates.

Advance polls, enabling voters to cast ballots ahead of election day, opened throughout the country on Tuesday. Up to 30 percent of voters cast ballots early in previous elections, a practice the opposition says broadens the scope for cheating.

"There is no reason to believe the authorities will shrink from the temptation to award extra votes during this period when there are no technical means to check how ballots were cast," said veteran opposition figure Anatoly Lebedko.

Lukashenko has said in the run-up to the election he even hopes the opposition, now unrepresented in parliament, will win a few of the 110 seats to silence Western critics.

Opposition leaders say they could win 20 to 30 seats in a truly free vote.

Belarussian courts last month released the last detainees deemed "political prisoners", a key condition for gaining acceptance in the West. (Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Matthew Jones)



Partners: Social Network