March 19, 2006


Iron-fisted incumbent Alexander Lukashenko was headed to an overwhelming win in Sunday’s presidential vote in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, the elections chief said. Thousands of opposition supporters protested the results in the city’s main square.

The protesters chanted “Long Live Belarus!” and the name of the main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich. Some waved a national flag that Lukashenko banned in favor of a Soviet-style replacement, while others waved European Union flags. Milinkevich arrived later. . . .

Lukashenko had vowed to prevent the kind of mass rallies that helped bring opposition leaders to power in former Soviet republics Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan following disputed elections.

The use or threat of force neutralized opposition efforts to protest vote results in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan last year, and a bloody government crackdown in Uzbekistan left hundreds dead.

“It will be a peaceful demonstration. We will come out with flowers,” Milinkevich said after voting at a school. “We do not intend to elect a president on the square. We will tell people the truth.”

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