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Belarusian Commission Says Voters Back Lukashenka


18 October 2004 -- The election commission in Belarus says voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum allowing President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to run for a third term and stacked parliament with pro-government candidates.

The head of the commission, Lidiya Ermoshina, said today that 77 percent of registered voters backed the president's proposal to lift a constitutional rule limiting him to two terms. She said turnout was 90 percent, and the vote will enable him to run again in 2006.

In elections to parliament, held at the same time, none of the opposition candidates made it into the 110-member lower house.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are holding a news conference later today to give their assessment of the fairness of yesterday's elections.

Opposition leaders have already condemned the vote, saying it was marred by large-scale fraud.

An exit poll published by the Gallup Institute suggested that President Lukashenka had fallen short of the required 50 percent for the constitutional change.

Commenting on the Gallup poll, Ermoshina said: "I don't know whether it was the [Gallup] Institute or a self-proclaimed group of people. Who invited them here, who gave them accreditation, who checked the reliability of their sources and questionnaires? Who did they question?"

(AP/dpa/Reuters)

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