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Belarus Opposition Will Not Recognize Vote Results

Alyaksandr Milinkevich and his wife, Inna, voting in Minsk today (epa) PRAGUE, March 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The main opposition candidate in today's Belarusian presidential election, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, said today he will not recognize the result of the vote and called for a repeat of elections.

The statement came just hours after state-backed exit polls announced that Lukashenka had received more than 80 percent support of voters so far.

"At 10 a.m., the first results of exit polls were announced and the results showed that 82 percent of voters had chosen Lukashenka," reported RFE/RL Belarusian Service Director Alexander Lukashuk from Minsk. "[Two organizations are allowed] to conduct exit polls in the country: the Union of Belarusian Republican Youth and an organization called EKOOM. These organizations are quasi-state-owned."

Polls close at 8 p.m. local time and first results are expected later this evening. Official turnout has been put at more than 70 percent, hours before polls closed.

Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 12 years and is seeking a third term, says anyone who tries to seize power through protests will have his neck broken like a "duckling."

"We conduct elections in Belarus for ourselves," Lukashenka told reporters after he voted today. "You will see that from the outcome of the election. I'm sure it is the Belarusian people who are the masters of our country and it is up to them to determine who will be president."

Support For The President

In spite of the controversy surrounding the vote, many people in Minsk surveyed by Reuters say they support the incumbent. One of these, identified only as Kanstantyn, a man in his 40s, says he expects most people to vote for Lukashenka.

"People now will vote for the incumbent," he said.

Uladzimir, another middle-aged male voter from Minsk, says he voted for Lukashenka.

"We voted for our president," he told Reuters. "We want to give him more time to carry on with the reforms he started. And we voted for [the future of] Belarus."

Opposition Gathering Expected Tonight

"Today, I invited those who stand for change in our country to come to a square in Minsk," Milinkevich said today. "This will be an absolutely peaceful rally with flowers. We do not intend to elect a president in the square. There is no such tradition in Belarus. But we will talk about the way the election was conducted and about chances for freedom in our country. And if there are any provocations, the responsibility will lie with the country's leadership."

Yesterday, Milinkevich made a similar appeal during a Minsk rock concert.

Milinkevich addressing supporters at a Minsk rock concert on March 18 (RFE/RL)

"Presidents are not elected on the streets, but we come out onto the streets to say 'no' to falsification, 'no' to lies," Milinkevich said. "We want to live in dignity. We are human beings."

Syarhey Vozniak, a spokesman for Milinkevich, said today that the authorities are already making preparations for this evening.

"For now, everything is calm on the streets of Minsk,"Vozniak said. "But according to the information we have, they -- the power structures -- will start blocking the center of the city in the afternoon."

Vozniak says tonight's rally is not planned as a protest demonstration. He says the people are being called to gather to hear the results.

"There, we will listen to the official results of the vote," he said. "According to our point of view, these results will be falsified."

Vozniak says the opposition wants a peaceful rally, but if violence erupts, he says it will be the authorities who are to blame.

Ratcheting Up The Rhetoric

Ratcheting Up The Rhetoric

Alyaksandr Milinkevich attending an opposition rock concert on March18 in Minsk, where he first issued a call for protests (RFE/RL)

TOWARD A SHOWDOWN?: The main Belarusian opposition presidential candidate, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, and his campaign manager, Syarhey Kalyakin, spoke on March 19 at a news conference in Minsk. RFE/RL's Belarus Service provided excerpts from Milinkevich's remarks.

Milinkevich: I believe this civil confrontation can be resolved by repeating elections, in which representatives of all candidates will be represented in election commissions.

Milinkevich: This will not be a true result. It will be a result of falsifications that have been continuing for a long time. [The results] will be recognized neither by us nor the majority of the Belarusian population. They will not be recognized by democratic countries, it has already become obvious.

Milinkevich: I will be appealing to the good senses of the authorities. This conflict should not be escalated. It should not be fomented. A resolution should be found. Let's sit down to the negotiating table.

Milinkevich: I am absolutely confident that democratic countries will not recognize this election as legitimate. I very much hope that there will be quite a few serious politicians in Russia who will do the same.

Milinkevich: Those people who will overcome fear will come out in the streets. There was and still is fear being infused today by warnings of alleged terrorism, which has never been heard of in Belarus. So let's see how many people will come out. I will be grateful to everyone who comes out and says peacefully that we want to live like humans and not on our knees, in humiliation.

Click on the image to view a dedicated page with news, analysis, and background information about the Belarusian presidential ballot.

Click on the image to view RFE/RL's coverage of the election campaign in Belarusian and to listen to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.