Lukashenko's Allies Claim All Seats in New Belarus Parliament

By Paul Abelsky and Milda Seputyte

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- President Alexander Lukashenko's allies claimed all the seats in the new Belarusian parliament, in an election which the former Soviet state expects to gain international recognition for the first time since 1996.

The opposition gained none of the 110 seats in yesterday's vote, with 11 still to be counted, according to preliminary results, said Lidiya Ermoshina, head of the Minsk-based central electoral committee, in a press conference televised on state TV. Turnout was 75.3 percent. Full results will be announced at 10 a.m. local time.

The 54-year-old Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and was described by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006 as ``Europe's last dictator,'' staked future ties with the European Union and U.S. on the election's legitimacy. EU foreign ministers said this month they are ready to re- examine sanctions imposed on Belarus in 2004.

``It will be difficult for any of you of the Western observers not to recognize it,'' Lukashenko, who is committed to an economic and political union with Russia, told reporters after casting his vote, as broadcast by state television. ``We are holding the elections for ourselves.''

The vote in the country of 10 million that borders three of the EU's members was the most closely watched in more than a decade as Belarus attempts to balance its historic economic and cultural ties to Russia with overtures to the West. Pipelines in the nation's pipelines carry a fifth of Russia's natural-gas exports to Europe.

`Coverage Limited'

All of the country's elections since 1996 have been considered invalid by international observers. Paris-based rights group Reporters Without Borders said it was ``dissatisfied'' with the local media coverage of the electoral campaign, according to a report published on Sept. 26.

``Media coverage has been limited to explaining the technical aspects of the polling and the way the central electoral commission works,'' the report said. ``As a result, Belarusian voters are not able to take an informed decision about the candidates.''

About 500 opposition supporters gathered in central Minsk after polling closed, state TV reported. They waved EU and historic Belarusian flags, the latter banned by Lukashenko. Signs in English called for a ``boycott to dictatorship,'' the footage showed. An opposition Web site estimated the number of protesters at 2,000.

As many as 1,000 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States are monitoring the elections in Belarus, the central electoral commission said in an e-mailed statement.



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