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Belarus: Hancharyk Praises High Voter Turnout; OSCE Head Called A Spy

Minsk, 9 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk says a high voter turnout so far in today's presidential election in Belarus is already a big victory for a "new Belarus." Hancharyk, who is the main challenger to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, made the comments as he cast his own vote today. He says he will not recognize today's vote if there is widespread vote tampering.

Belarus's Central Election Committee reports that by mid-morning today, voter turnout was over 28 percent.

The number of electors who voted in advance was more than 14 percent. The system of advance voting, which allows people to cast their ballot early, has been heavily criticized by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who say it could lead to vote fraud.

Lukashenka, who is widely expected to win, said today that the chief of the OSCE observer mission in Minsk, Hans-Georg Wieck, is a spy who must leave the country. Lukashenka said Wieck will be expelled from Belarus if he doesn't leave voluntarily.

Earlier this week, the official newspaper "Sovetskaya Belorussia" said the OSCE was acting as an umbrella service for Western spy services that wanted to overthrow Lukashenka. The paper said that the Western plan is to culminate with an opposition march on the night after the election, leading to police clashes, which would give the West a pretext for not recognizing today's presidential election.

Lukashenka said he was unconcerned that the West might not recognize the presidential election.