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Belarus Opposition Holds Last Rally Ahead of Election


Opposition activists in Belarus have held their final pre-election rally ahead of Sunday's presidential balloting.

The opposition Web site Charter97 says two opposition candidates, Alexander Milinkevich and Alexander Kozulin, stressed their solidarity and the importance of unity ahead of the vote.

Candidates challenging Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have been harassed in the weeks leading up to the election. Authorities have repeatedly interfered with the independent news media, most recently seizing the entire edition of the newspaper Tovarishch.

Meanwhile, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, writing in the International Herald Tribune, called on the European Union to stand behind opposition forces in Belarus if Mr. Lukashenko wins the presidential vote. Former Presidents Lech Walesa of Poland and Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic in a joint open letter echoed the Georgian leader's sentiments.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan expressed concern over the failure of Belarus leaders to pursue a democratic course. He said the United States supports democracy and the aspirations of people seeking freedom.

Mr. 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 AFP, AP and Reuters.
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