Belarus opposition fails in polls

At least 500 opposition supporters marched in Minsk

Opposition candidates in Belarus have failed to win any seats in the parliamentary elections, near-complete results show.

All 99 seats went to pro-government candidates, electoral officials say. Only 11 seats remain to be confirmed.

The opposition says Sunday's vote was not legitimate, urging international observers not to recognise the outcome.

The country's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko insists the poll was free and fair.

He says he expects the election to lead to better relations between the former Soviet republic and the West.

In a bid to appease his critics, the president ordered some opponents to be freed from prison and allowed about 70 opposition candidates to stand.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are due to give their assessment of the election later on Monday.

Past polls have been seriously flawed, and Mr Lukashenko - who has been in power since 1994 - has been condemned by the US as the "last dictator" in Europe.

Rally in Minsk

Votes are still being counted in 11 constituencies, and it is possible for a few opposition candidates to win seats in the 110-member lower chamber of parliament - the House of Representatives.

President's farming roots

However, leading opposition members ran in the 99 districts where the vote count is now complete.

"There was no election in Belarus. It was an electoral farce for the West," Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the opposition United Civil Party, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

"We call on the EU and the US not to recognise the results of the election," Mr Lebedko said.

Opposition groups also say that they were not allowed to monitor voting properly.

They say that advance voting - which began on Tuesday - gave the government an opportunity to cheat. The authorities deny the accusation.

At least 500 opposition supporters held a peaceful protest rally in the capital Minsk after the polls closed late on Sunday.

Many in the crowd carried white-and-red nationalist flags and also EU flags.

'Free' election

"If the election goes smoothly, the West will recognise Belarus," Mr Lukashenko, banned from travelling to EU countries and the US, said after casting his vote.

He later said that it would be hard for some 400 foreign observers not to judge the vote as free and fair.

Correspondents say Mr Lukashenko has been trying to improve relations with the West as his country's ties cool with Russia.

European and US diplomats had suggested that sanctions against Belarusian companies could be lifted if the election was conducted well.

The chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, Lidiya Yarmoshyna, said the poll had met all international standards.

She said turnout was 75%.

All 110 seats of the House of Representatives in Belarus are currently occupied by politicians who back Mr Lukashenko.



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