Belarus's long-serving president to run again


Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, will run again in the upcoming December 19 presidential elections, an official at the country's electoral commission said yesterday.

Lukashenko, 55, had previously said he would seek a new five-year term. His closest challenger pulled out earlier this month, saying he believed the poll would be rigged.

Analysts say that Lukashenko will have little trouble winning re-election.

He controls most media in the country of 10mn wedged between Poland and Russia and has won popular support by maintaining Soviet-era subsidies.

Speaking to students on the day his re-election bid was announced, Lukashenko hailed Belarus's state-dominated economy as a model.

The global financial crisis, he said, showed the perils of relying excessively on the private sector.

To overcome the crisis, countries "have strengthened the role of the state which Belarus has always done", Lukashenko said, according to the Interfax news agency.

"Suddenly the Belarus model proved to be eagerly sought," he added.

So far, 15 contenders including Lukashenko have registered with the commission, official Nikolai Lazovik said. Contenders have until 1600 GMT on Friday to register, he added.

The EU and US have long shunned Lukashenko, accusing him of maintaining power through illegitimate elections and harshly suppressing dissent.

A traditional ally of Moscow, Lukashenko has used billions of dollars of Russian money to prop up heavy industry and social spending, allowing his country to continue operating a heavily state-dominated economy.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects Belarus to grow between 7.5% and 10% this year after stagnating last year.

Opposition leaders disputed the official vote count in 2006, which gave Lukashenko more than 82% and main challenger Alexander Milinkevich 6%. Police forcibly broke up protests over the vote.

The fractured opposition has not united behind a single candidate for the December vote.

But recent spats with Russia over trade and energy subsidies could make it harder for Lukashenko to repeat his landslide 2006 victory.

Russian media have speculated that the Kremlin might try to back an anti-Lukashenko candidate as a spoiler, though few believe Moscow would wish to risk pushing Lukashenko from power and risking Belarus drifting into the West's embrace.


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