March 20, 2006

Protesters Charge Fraud in Belarus Presidential Election

MINSK, Belarus
An expected landslide for President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko drew several thousand Belarussians into the streets on Sunday, as protesters ignored swirling snow and official threats of arrest to denounce the election as a clumsily orchestrated sham.

With 32 percent of ballots counted shortly before midnight on Sunday, Mr. Lukashenko, a former collective farm boss who has been in office 12 years, had won 88 percent of the total, said the secretary of the central election commission, Nikolai I. Lozovik. That figure exceeded even the state's own surveys of voters leaving the polls and hardened assertions by Mr. Lukashenko's opponents that the results were fraudulent.

"They say we want a revolution," the leading opposition candidate, Aleksandr Milinkevich, told thousands of protesters who gathered peacefully in October Square, the central square in Minsk, as the polls closed at 8 p.m. "No. We want only free and fair elections. What happened here was a farce. We do not recognize this election."


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