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Belarus Opposition Leader Calls for Peaceful Protests

Last Sunday opposition parties in Belarus agreed on a single candidate to run against long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential election set for next summer. The opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, is a 58-year-old academic who supports non-violent protests to end the dictatorial rule of Mr. Lukashenko. In a radio call-in show with VOA's Russian Service, Mr. Milinkevich disputed claims that Mr. Lukashenko enjoys considerable support among the population in Belarus.

"In general, the information that Lukashenko has huge support is outdated. His support varies within the 30-40 percent range. Approximately the same percentage is willing to support an opposition candidate. And of course there are about 30 percent who are undecided. At the same time, the protest vote in Belarus is on the rise. Some estimates put it as high as 60 percent. These are the people who don't want to continue living the way they have been. For them, living in fear is humiliating," Mr. Milinkevich said.

Yet Mr. Milinkevich has no illusions that he can emerge a winner in the next year's presidential election. He agrees this would be difficult as long as Mr. Lukashenko, who is widely considered in Western countries as "Europe's last dictator," will continue to stifle the opposition and independent media. Mr. Milinkevich told VOA that it has been a long time since anyone seriously counted ballots in Belarus.

Mr. Milinkevich expects that the regime will falsify the election results and President Lukashenko will get no less than 75 percent of the vote. Anything lower would seriously displease President Lukashenko.

But the opposition leader is confident that in the end the people of Belarus will decide the fate of their country on their own. Mr. Milinkevich said that his movement hopes to launch a broad political campaign and tell the truth no matter what happens.

"Dictatorial regimes never go away voluntarily. It might require street action. The only thing is, I would not want to call it a revolution. Revolution means blood being spilled and rewriting the Constitution. Revolution always implies violence. We plan to have peaceful public protests and just defend our right to be human," said. Mr. Milinkevich.