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Advance Presidential Voting Begins in Belarus


Advance voting has begun ahead of Sunday's presidential elections in Belarus, as authorities urged citizens to make use of the chance to cast ballots.

Authorities called the early vote standard democratic procedure. But supporters of the main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, expressed concern over possible ballot-stuffing and multiple voting at unguarded and unmonitored polling stations.

Authorities have detained a number of Milinkevich supporters in advance of the vote, sentencing some to terms of up to 15 days - this will keep them in prison until after the election.

Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey urged the Belarusian government to halt repressions and to respect the rights of the country's citizens. He warned of further U.S. and European Union restrictive measures in case the vote is not in line with the international commitments of Belarus.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994, and is seeking a third term.

The West has criticized him for his poor human rights record and for quashing political opposition. The United States has called Mr. Lukashenko Europe's last dictator.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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