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Belarus votes to elect its president

The turnout was brisk, at just under 40 per cent of registered voters after three hours.

india Updated: Mar 19, 2006 22:25 IST

Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko looked set for landslide re-election on Sunday amid opposition claims of vote-rigging and fear of violence after authorities vowed to crush protests.

Polls opened at 11.30 am and were to close at 23.30 pm.

Turnout was brisk, according to the central electoral commission, at just under 40 per cent of registered voters after three hours.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 12 years, is widely expected to defeat his three opponents, winning a third term as leader of the ex-Soviet republic of 10 million people.

However, the main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, accuses Lukashenko of planning "total falsification" in the wake of a campaign that saw the opposition almost entirely denied media access and hundreds of activists detained.

Milinkevich, a 58-year-old physicist, repeated his call for a peaceful demonstration in central Minsk after polls close, despite repeated warnings from the authorities.

"I've invited those who are for change in our country to go to the square," he said after casting his vote in the capital.

"If there are provocations, the responsibility will be with the authorities. We are peaceful."

The opposition appears to have little chance of mirroring the recent people-power revolutions that swept away entrenched regimes in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine after rigged elections.

First Published: Mar 19, 2006 18:33 IST