PRAGUE, March 2, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- "Long live Belarus! Long live Belarus!"
That was the chant tonight from some 3,000 supporters of Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the leader of the opposition and Lukashenka's main challenger in the March 19 vote, who gathered for a pre-election rally in central Minsk.
Addressing the crowd before it dispersed peacefully, Milinkevich called for freedom and justice in Belarus.
"Dear friends, I congratulate you -- freedom, justice and the truth are coming to Belarus. And we will win the right to live as humans, to live in Europe and to be a free country. Long live Belarus! "
About 1,000 police were reported to be deployed at the site of the planned rally, which authorities have called a provocation.
"This election campaign costs our armed forces, our security forces a lot of nerves and health. The tension is so high, you cannot even imagine." President Lukashenka
President Lukashenka, who is seeking a third term, urged igilance against such "provocations" during a speech in the capital today.
"This election campaign costs our armed forces, our security forces a lot of nerves and health. The tension is so high, you cannot even imagine. But government officials have received one task from me: do not be drawn into any kind of provocation, wait calmly until March 19 and then the people will decide."
President Lukashenka is up for a third term (epa)
Lukashenka also said Westerners have nothing to teach Belarus about human rights since they have "plunged the entire Middle East into blood."
Meanwhile a U.S. statement at the OSCE said there is a "growing atmosphere of intimidation" against non-government organizations, opposition political figures, and civil society groups in Belarus.
U.S. spokesman Bruce Connuck accused authorities of manufacturing conspiracies and crises to justify repression.
In Warsaw, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) pointed out a "serious deterioration" in the campaign atmosphere.
And in Brussels, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, Krisztina Nagy, urged the Belarusian authorities to ensure equal campaigning rights to all candidates in the election process.
"We are ready to take up targeted sanctions against those responsible individuals if the elections are not conducted in a democratic manner."
Earlier today, one of Lukashenka's other challengers in the presidential poll -- Alyaksandr Kazulin --was detained for several hours and allegedly beaten by security agents after he tried to attend Lukashenka's speech. Kazulin is the leader of the opposition Social Democrats.
(RFE/RL's Russian and Belarus Services contributed to this report)
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