Update: Belarus Opposition Fail To Win Seat In Poll-Commission

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MINSK, Belarus (AFP)--Opposition parties in Belarus failed to win a single seat in parliamentary elections seen as a test of the former Soviet state's democracy, the electoral commission said Monday.

"Not a single opposition candidate was elected, at least not among those represented by the parties," Central Elections Commission chief Lidia Yermoshina told a press conference.

The full results indicated that all 110 seats would go to loyalists of autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko, who Washington dubs "Europe's last dictator" but who made a pre-poll bid to reconciliate with the West.

A sweep by pro-Lukashenko parties would likely be read as a snub in Washington and Brussels, which have offered better ties with the former Soviet republic if the elections show significant improvements on earlier polls.

Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were to give their appraisal of the poll later Monday.

Hundreds of opposition activists gathered late Sunday in the capital Minsk to condemn the polls as a "farce" and urged international observers not to recognize the outcome.

Lukashenko, who has ruled this economically backward former Soviet republic wedged between Russia and the European Union for 14 years, Sunday hit out at opposition groups for taking "outside" funding.

"A real, constructive opposition is always needed... but not an opposition fed and financed 100% from outside," he told journalists.

The West has offered to ease sanctions, give economic aid and lift a travel ban on Belarussian leaders if Sunday's poll shows signs of progress in a country that is also a key transit route for Russian gas exports.

A coalition of anti-Lukashenko groups criticized the election as undemocratic.

"It is clear these elections cannot be recognized as honest and fair under any criteria. We do not recognize the results," Anatoly Lebedko, the leader of the opposition United Citizen Party, told AFP.

The voter turnout was 75.3%, the Central Elections Commission said Monday. That included more than a quarter of the electorate who cast ballots from Tuesday through Saturday.

The opposition has criticized the early voting system as giving authorities an easy way to commit fraud, since it was not subject to complete independent monitoring.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders complained that Lukashenko's critics were ignored in state-controlled media during campaigning - a view shared by the demonstrators in Minsk's October Square.

Thousands had camped out in the same location in March 2006 to protest the results of a presidential vote widely seen as rigged.

Monday's results were due to be formally confirmed Friday.



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