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Some 10,000 Gather In Central Minsk

Trucks bringing security forces into Minsk on March 19 (RFE/RL) MINSK, March 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of opposition supporters are gathering in a central square in the Belarusian capital Minsk following the closure of polls in the country's presidential elections.

RFE/RL Belarus Service correspondent Lyobov Lunyova is reporting that as many as 10,000 people have gathered on the city's October Square to protest alleged election fraud. Many are waving the white, red, and white Belarusian flag used by the opposition, as well as European Union flags.

"About 10,000 people have come to October Square by now, despite the fact that the October metro station is closed and the buses [aren't running], and there are more and more people coming," Lunyova reported.

Earlier, large trucks were seen proceeding toward the area.

"Police personnel are staying in their buses and not coming out of them," Lunyova said. "There are [police officers] in civilian clothes. People are changing 'Freedom! Freedom!' and demanding change."

Incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had earlier promised that protesters who aimed to disrupt today's vote would have their necks broken like a "duckling."

The subway station closest to October Square has been closed.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. local time with progovernment pollsters saying incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka has won more than 80 percent of the vote.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports that the Central Election Commission for Belarus reported turnout at 87 percent two hours before the polls closed at 8 p.m. local time.

Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna is due shortly to hold a press conference to discuss early election results. Yarmoshyna announced preliminary results for so-called "closed" polling stations at a press conference following the end of voting. Yarmoshyna said Lukashenka won 92 percent of the votes at hospitals and 98 percent at military bases.

She added that overall results were unlikely to differ greatly from those numbers.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service is reporting it has lost some mobile-phone contact with its correspondents in Minsk. It also says Internet users in Belarus have reported difficulty in accessing its website.

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.

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.

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