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OSCE Says Belarus Presidential Vote Not Free or Fair


European election monitors say Sunday's presidential vote in Belarus was not democratic.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the victory by President Alexander Lukashenko was marred by intimidation and the suppression of independent voices.

They noted the "arbitrary use of state power and widespread detentions" of opposition supporters.

The EU external affairs commissioner (Benita Ferrero-Waldner) said it was "very likely" that officials would approve sanctions, such as visa bans on top Belarus officials.

In contrast, Russian election observers reported 98 violations during the poll, but said the vote was free and transparent.

Earlier, President Lukashenko claimed victory with more than 80 percent of votes. He said the results showed the failure of what he called a "revolution" supported by outside pressure.

The leading opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, rejected the vote results and called for fresh street protests against what he called Mr. Lukashenko's "illegitimate" rule.

Mr. Lukashenko has been repeatedly criticized by the European Union and the United States because of his poor human rights record.

President Bush has called Mr. Lukashenko "Europe's last dictator." Washington also has sharply criticized Belarusian authorities for detaining scores of opposition activists leading up to the election.

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