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Belarus president's victory declaration disputed



MINSK, Belarus (CNN) -- President Alexander Lukashenko declared victory Sunday in Belarus' presidential election amid allegations of strong-arm tactics and voting irregularities in the former Soviet republic.

Opposition leaders called for a second round of voting, saying Lukashenko failed to win a majority of votes.

Preliminary results showed Lukashenko won 78 percent of the vote, compared to 12 percent for leading opposition candidate Vladimir Goncharik, according to the central election committee. Sergei Gaidukevich had 2 percent of the vote.

Election officials said the counting would continue Monday.

Opposition officials said Lukashenko got only 47 percent of the vote, compared to 41 percent for Gorcharik. Under Belarus law, a new round of voting would be required if neither candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

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Several hundred opposition demonstrators denounced Lukashenko's victory declaration -- which took place 90 minutes after the polls closed and before the votes had been counted -- in a noisy protest in Minsk's October Square on Sunday night.

Before the balloting even began, Lukashenko's main competitor for the presidency, Vladimir Goncharik, accused Lukashenko of trying to rig the vote and said he would not accept the results.

An envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Hans-Georg Wiek, said Lukashenko used police to intimidate political opponents and manipulated the media, which is under the exclusive control of the state.

The OSCE also criticized the absence of opposition representatives among elections officials.

On Saturday, elections officials banned a group of approximately 2,000 domestic election observers, part of a group of 5,000 who planned to monitor the country's 7,000 polling places.

Wiek said the OSCE believed the exclusion was designed to weaken the ability of the domestic observers to conduct a parallel vote count to detect fraud.

Even international observers critical of the election in Belarus as unfair and undemocratic conceded that Lukashenko is popular here, making it difficult for the international community to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the result.

Lukashenko has also been accused of using a presidential death squad to eliminate political opponents.

The U.S. State Department has called the allegations of two people making those charges "detailed and credible." Lukashenko told CNN the allegations are "dirt and lies."






RELATED STORIES:
• Observers ban for Belarus poll
September 9, 2001
• Shadow over Belarus poll
September 7, 2001
• Lukashenko claims parliamentary poll win
October 16, 2000

RELATED SITE:
• Belarus National Assembly

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