Belarus opposition routed in parliamentary elections

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Moscow, Sep 29 (UNI) Opposition candidates have so far failed to gain a single seat in the parliamentary elections in Belarus.

Voting took place yesterday across the country in elections that came after President Alexander Lukashenko, once called ''Europe's last dictator'' by the US, had freed opponents from jail and permitted some 70 opposition candidates to stand in the polls. ''No one from the opposition has made it into parliament ,'' RIA Novosti news agency reported the head of the election committee Lidiya Yermoshina as saying in Minsk, the Belarusian capital today.

Yermoshina said 99 seats out of a total of 110 had already been decided and had all gone to pro-government candidates.

Final election results will be announced by the Belarusian election committee on October 3. Turnout in the polls was reported as 75.3 per cent.

She pointed out the opposition had failed because, ''voters are afraid to lose what they have,'' adding people were unwilling to risk a radical change in their lives, and that if opposition candidates came to power they could, ''disrupt their calm, comfortable existence.'' Neither the EU, nor the US have recognized the results of any election or referendum in Belarus since 1996. Lukashenko earlier said he expected European observers to approve the parliamentary polls as free and fair.

After casting his vote yesterday, he said he hoped that if the polls went without a hitch, ''the West will recognize Belarus.'' Opposition leader Alexander Kozulin said he was taking part in the polls ''to show the international community that the elections are fraudulent.'' He claimed to have evidence to back up his claims that the elections had been rigged.

Anatoly Lebedko, head of the opposition United Civil Party said, ''we call on the EU and the US not to recognize the results of the election.'' Lukashenko and other top Belarusian officials are currently banned from visiting the EU due to a clampdown on political dissent and other human rights violations in the former Soviet republic.

The EU has also suspended bilateral ministerial meetings with Belarus and expelled it from the system of trade benefits.

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