Belarus opposition calls on EU not to recognise election 'farce'

Belarus opposition leaders urged the EU not to recognise the results of six-day parliamentary elections which ended on Sunday (28 September), in which allies of President Alexander Lukashenko, seen as Europe's last dictator, claimed all the seats in the 110-strong parliament.

In an effort to convey the message that Belarus is changing, Lukashenko allowed some 70 opposition candidates to run in the elections, out of 263 candidates overall. In a defiant speech ahead of the vote, Lukashenko said he was not against having the opposition represented in Parliament, but that he was against an opposition entirely financed by the West.

Western media reported that opposition posters were on display in the capital Minsk, but analysts warned against drawing any premature optimistic conclusions.

The vote in the country, which borders Russia to the east, Ukraine to the north and three EU members to the west (Latvia, Lithuania and Poland), was closely followed by more than 1,000 international observers in an attempt to trigger the potnetial opening of the country to the world.

The EU and the US had indicated a readiness to lift sanctions and improve ties with Minsk after the authorities recently freed former opposition presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin.

While casting his vote, Kozulin, who was sentenced to five years in jail for protesting Lukashenko's re-election in 2006, said he was taking part "to show the international community that the elections are fraudulent". He added that he had "a lot of facts and evidence" to prove the claim.

Vintsuk Vyachorka, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front, stressed that given the absence of representatives of opposition forces on election commissions, vote counting could not be expected to be honest. Other opposition leaders pointed to the fact that advance voting, which began on Tuesday, gave the authorities an opportunity to cheat.

French NGO Reporters Without Borders complained that Lukashenko's critics were denied media access during the campaign.



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