Belarus holds election; opposition alleges rigging


Associated Press Writer

MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Belarusians voted Sunday in parliamentary elections that opposition leaders insisted were already rigged, despite promises by the country's authoritarian leader that international voting standards were followed.

President Alexander Lukashenko welcomed more than 400 election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to prove his country is embracing democratic reforms. In national elections four years ago, the opposition wasn't even allowed to run.

"It will be very difficult for the observers not to recognize these elections,'' Lukashenko said after casting his ballot Sunday.

A total of 263 candidates, including 70 from the opposition, were competing in Sunday's elections for 110 parliamentary seats.

As soon as the polls closed, about 500 opposition supporters turned out on the central square of the capital to protest the vote. Many carried European Union flags.

"We are tired of living in fear, we are tired of repression,'' said Natalya Kurilovich, 34. "I'm tired of Lukashenko stealing votes. I want a European future for my children.''

About 200-300 young protesters marched to the headquarters of the KGB, the country's secret police, and chanted "shame'' outside the building before moving on and eventually returning to the main square.

The protest ended peacefully about three hours after it had begun. No uniformed police were visible, but there appeared to have been plainclothes officers among the crowd.

Opposition protests in the past have usually been crushed by police in scenes that have helped earn Belarus a reputation as Europe's last dictatorship. But on Sunday, authorities appeared to be trying to avoid the sight of protesters being beaten or harassed.

Opposition members complained that an early voting system meant observers would have trouble assessing the elections. Early voting began Tuesday, and more than 25 percent of about 7 million eligible voters had cast ballots before Sunday, the Central Election Commission said. Final turnout was 75 percent, it said.



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