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U.S.: Little Chance Belarusian Vote Will Be Free, Fair --> President Lukashenka (file photo) 15 October 2004 -- Washington today accused Minsk of sidelining opposition figures as Belarus prepares for weekend parliamentary elections and a referendum on allowing President Alyaksandr Lukashenka another term.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in Washington: "The [Belarusian] authorities have refused to register about 40 percent of the potential parliamentary candidates in this election. These refusals were largely based on insignificant or alleged errors in the candidates' paperwork and they were directed disproportionately at opposition candidates."

Boucher also said Washington sees little chance the vote in Belarus will be free or fair. Lukashenka's authoritarian regime has been frequently charged by Western governments and human-rights groups of human-rights violations.

On 13 October, Lukashenka told Washington to "sit down and shut up" following earlier U.S. criticism of the referendum.