MINSK -- Election officials in Belarus have registered four candidates for an October 11 presidential election that seems certain to extend authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rule.
The contenders given spots on the ballot by the Central Election Commission (TsVK) on September 10 -- the final day of registration -- included Belarus's first female presidential candidate, Tatsyana Karatkevich, an activist of the opposition movement Havary Pravdu (Tell the Truth).
Karatkevich urged TsVK officials not to register Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994, saying that "he must be tired already and needs to retire."
Karatkevich rejected calls by some other government foes to withdraw her candidacy and join a boycott of an election they say is neither free nor fair.
She said she would continue her campaign in order "not to help Lukashenka to secure another term in office" -- and was cheered by a group of supporters as she left the TsVK headquarters in Minsk.
Lukashenka did not show up at the TsVK session but sent a representative, Mikhail Orda.
In addition to Lukashenka and Karatkevich, the other candidates who were registered are the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, Syarhey Haydukyevich, and the leader of the Belarusian Patriotic Party, Mikalay Ulakhovich.
Election officials said Viktar Tsyareshchanka and Zhana Ramanouskaya were not registered as candidates because they "failed to collect the required 100,000 signatures of supporters."
Haydukyevich, who took part in presidential elections in 2001 and 2006, where he got 2.5 and 3.5 percent, respectively, said he will work for a "prosperous Belarus" and thanked all his supporters for their trust.
Ulakhovich, who leads a group called the Belarusian Cossacks in addition to the Belarusian Patriotic Party, said that he is "a great manager" and wants "to bring advantages to my motherland."
Opposition figures who had urged Karatkevich to bow out fear that Lukashenka's government is putting challengers on the ballot to create a veneer of democracy in the election in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic of 9.5 million.
Rights groups and Western governments say Lukashenka has suppressed dissent, muzzled the media, and extended his rule though a series of illegitimate elections.
The country's last presidential election, in December 2010, ended with the violent dispersal of protesters by security forces and the imprisonment of several activists and presidential candidates.
One of the jailed presidential candidates, Andrey Sannikau, was pardoned by Lukashenka and released in 2012, later receiving political asylum in Britain.
Another, Mikalay Statkevich, was released last month after Lukashenka pardoned him and several other people widely considered political prisoners -- a move seen as an attempt to improve his image in the West ahead of the presidential election.
However, the pardoned former candidates are barred from running for president, because they have criminal records.
On September 10, the European Parliament called on Belarus to rehabilitate the political prisoners it has released and to fully restore their civil and political rights.