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Belarus Elections to be Held Among Allegations of Fraud - 2001-09-08


Voters across the former Soviet republic of Belarus will go to the polls to elect a new president Sunday.

The days leading up to Sunday's presidential election in Belarus have been filled with accusations that the voting will not be fair, and Saturday was no exception.

Vladimir Goncharik, a trade union leader, is the main opposition candidate running against Mr. Lukashenko. During a press conference on Saturday, he said Mr. Lukashenko's team was doing everything in their power to make sure the Belarusian president wins, including falsifying votes and intimidating voters.

Mr. Goncharik said the Belarus is on the eve of a colossal falsification of voting. He added that if Mr. Lukashenko is re-elected, Belarus will continue down a road of political isolation with a deteriorating economy.

Mr. Lukashenko, who has served as president since 1994, has repeatedly denied these charges, saying the election will be free and fair. The Belarusian leader is very popular with many of the country's ten million voters because he has preserved many features of the former Soviet Union such as high pensions.

Representatives from a number of international organizations have come to Belarus to observe the elections, including a group from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE is one of Europe's largest human rights organizations.

The group has drawn the fire from Mr. Lukashenko and his supporters, who accuse the OSCE is biased in favor of the opposition. The Belarusian minister of foreign affairs has also charged the head of the OSCE mission in the country's capital, Minsk, of being a spy.

During a press conference on Saturday, the head of the OSCE election monitoring organization, Gerard Stoudmann, said there was a smear campaign against the OSCE by Lukashenko's administration who say the organization was a tool of the U.S. government. "Some organs of the state and some officials have not been losing an opportunity to say for instance that we are taking our instructions directly from the state department," he said.

The results of the election is expected on Monday, but the United States has said that it will not recognize the polls' validity.

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