'Last dictator' awaits vote result

By Oleg Shchedrov

BELARUS, once described by Washington as Europe's last dictatorship, voted yesterday in a parliamentary election that President Alexander Luka-shenko said would lead to better relations with the West.

"If the election goes smoothly, the West will recognise Belarus," a beaming Mr Lukashenko said after voting. "Dictator? Last dictator? Fine, let it be so," he said, referring to the label applied by the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005.

Mr Lukashenko, accused of flouting fundamental rights during 14 years in power, has freed political prisoners and eased curbs on the opposition, which was excluded from the outgoing 110-member parliament. This time, his opponents have been allowed to put forward some 70 candidates, but they still do not trust Mr Lukashenko.

Alexander Kozulin, an opposition leader freed from jail last month, told reporters after voting: "This is all superficial, it does not change the basic problems."

The result is expected today.



Partners: Social Network