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Belarus: Lukashenka Celebrates His 'Shining' Victory

Minsk, 10 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka celebrated what he called a "shining" re-election victory today, following presidential elections that his chief opponent called fraudulent and international observers claimed were far from democratic.

According to preliminary results released today, the state-run Central Election Commission (CEC) announced Lukashenka won more than three-quarters of the vote.

Lukashenka told reporters last night after the polls closed that it was "a shining victory for our entire election team." Lukashenka called it an "elegant and beautiful victory."

In her first official statement, CEC President Lidziya Yarmoshyna said more than 75 percent (75.6 percent) of the electorate voted for Lukashenka. His chief opponent, trade union leader Uladzimir Hancharyk, attracted about 15.4 percent of the vote, with ultranationalist Liberal Democrat Syarhey Haydukevich trailing with 2.5 percent.

A CEC statement said about 84 percent of voters had turned out nationwide, with Lukashenka being seriously tested in only the capital, Minsk, where Hancharyk grabbed 30.5 percent of the vote to the president's 57.3 percent.

Elsewhere, local results largely mirrored the national outcome, though the regions of Homel and Mahileu voted overwhelmingly for Lukashenka -- 86.7 percent and 82.7 percent, respectively.

Hancharyk, the 61-year-old trade union leader behind whom most of the opposition had united, said the campaign and vote were rigged. He urged the CEC to nullify the results and call a new election.

He said the elections were the "dirtiest" he had ever seen and said Lukashenka had "simply drawn up some numbers and literally seized power."

International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the polls were far from democratic. The OSCE's Limited Election Observation Mission said in a statement the election failed to meet the OSCE's commitments for democratic elections formulated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document and Council of Europe standards.

The statement said the election process had been riddled with flaws. These included biased election bodies that failed to guarantee a free and fair campaign and which imposed an intimidation campaign against the opposition, domestic and international observers, and independent media.

The statement said, however, that Belarus should not be isolated as this was not "in the best interest of the Belarusian people and is not conducive to strengthening democratic development."

Asked about possible violations, Yarmoshyna was quoted as telling independent news agency Belapan that the elections had been conducted "irreproachably" and she had received no serious complaints.

Belapan reported numerous other alleged violations during the voting, including reports of ballot-stuffing in Minsk, the obstruction of an independent vote count, and the detention of independent observers and opposition activists in Hrodno and Mahileu.

Results of an independent vote count being conducted by the opposition were due to be released later today.

Sunday's poll was the second presidential election since Belarus became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Lukashenka, a former state farm manager, won the first election in 1994 and then used a highly controversial referendum in 1996 to extend his term in office.

The bitterly fought campaign had been marked by accusations that Lukashenka's government sponsored a death squad to eliminate his critics. Lukashenka denies the allegations.

In his first comments following the closing of polls Sunday night, Lukashenka said he owed much to Russian support. "I ask the Russian media to send my sincerest gratitude to the Russian people for all their support," he said.

Lukashenka also vowed to normalize relations with the West "by seven leagues," adding that he was ready to improve ties with the United States.

The Unites States earlier had voiced fears the polls would not be free or fair.