Belarus opposition wins not a single seat

MINSK: No opposition candidate had won a seat in the Belarussian parliament yesterday, with nearly all the districts counted, the headof the elections commission said.

The major opposition candidates ran in districts where the vote has already been counted. None of the opposition candidates running in the remaining districts is well known.

"The voter is afraid of losing what he has," Central Election Commission head Lidia Yermoshina said after results were released from 99 of the 110 voting districts.

Sunday's election was seen as a major test of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's commitment to democratic reforms. Opposition leaders had insisted the vote was rigged, despite promises by Mr Lukashenko that international voting standards were followed.

The Belarussian leader welcomed more than 400 election monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to prove that his country was embracing democratic reforms. In national elections four years ago, the opposition was not even allowed to run.

"It will be very difficult for theobservers not to recognise these elections," Mr Lukashenko said after casting his ballot.

A total of 263 candidates, including 70 from the opposition, were competing for the 110 parliamentary seats. As soon as the polls closed, about 500 opposition supporters turned out on the central square of the capital to protest about the vote. Many carried European Union flags.

"We are tired of living in fear; we are tired of repression," said Natalya Kurilovich, 34. "I'm tired of Lukashenko stealing votes. I want a European future for my children."

Opposition protests in the past have often been crushed by police in scenes that have helped earn Belarus a reputation as Europe's last dictatorship.

But on Sunday, authorities appeared to be trying to avoid the sight of protesters being beaten or arrested.

Mr Lukashenko - an open admirer of the Soviet Union - has tried to appease critics from abroad, including freeing several opposition figures considered political prisoners by the West.

This reflects concerns about Belarus's overreliance on neighbouring Russia, which has begun scaling back the preferential energy deals that have helped keep the Belarussian economy afloat.

Alexander Kozulin, one of the prisoners released last month, said the West should not slam the door on the Belarussian Government but "teach it how things are done in the civilised world".




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