Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Lukashenko looks set for victory in Belarus poll

AFP , MINSK

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko looked set for a landslide win yesterday as the ex-Soviet state voted in an election marred by accusations of fraud and fears of violence.

Lukashenko is widely expected to defeat his three opponents by a landslide and win a third term as leader.

The main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, accuses Lukashenko of planning "total falsification" in a campaign that has seen the opposition denied media access and hundreds of activists detained.

Milinkevich, a 58-year-old physicist, called on supporters to mount a peaceful protest in central Minsk as soon as polling stations closed.

Lukashenko, 51, has vowed to crush any disorder, warning that authorities will "break the neck immediately -- like a duckling's."

His KGB security service labels protesters "terrorists" and claims they are part of a Western-backed plot to overthrow the regime.

On Saturday, many mobile phone subscribers in Belarus received an anonymous text message warning of "bloodshed" in Minsk and urging them to "watch out for life health."

Western powers accuse Lukashenko of rigging yesterday's vote by stifling independent media, arresting activists and manipulating the electoral apparatus.

However, Moscow has warned the West not to meddle. Russia supports Belarus' growing economy with cheap energy supplies and the two countries are also in continuing talks on forming a "union state."

Yesterday's vote is a landmark for Lukashenko, as it follows the abolition of a two-term limit on holding the presidency at a controversial referendum in 2004.

He enjoys support in large segments of Belarusian society for ensuring that pensions are paid on time and maintaining economic stability.

However, he also has the benefit of a powerful propaganda machine that was in full swing on election morning, with non-stop reports on state television praising the fairness of Belarus' election system and success of Lukashenko's rule.

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