Belarus: Lukashenko wins referendum to extend mandate

In a referendum seen by the West as flouting democratic norms,
Belarussians overwhelmingly voted to allow President Lukashenko to
change the constitution and run for a third term in office.

According to partial results, voters in Belarus have approved a
referendum that would remove term limits and allow President
Alexander Lukashenko to stand for a third term in office. The next
presidential election is due in the autumn of 2006. Voters were
also electing a new 110-seat parliament, which Lukashenko has vowed
will not include opposition representatives. Turnout exceeded 90
per cent and approval was above 77 per cent. First official results
are due out late on 18 October.

The opposition claimed that the vote was rigged in favour of
Lukashenko. “There is large-scale fraud taking place,” said
opposition National Front Party leader Vintsuk Vyachorka. “It is a
farce.”

The 50-year-old Lukashenko, often referred to as the “last
dictator in Europe”, has been in power for twelve years. Should the
referendum be declared a success, he would be entitled to stay in
power indefinitely.

Both the EU and the US have voiced doubts that the poll was free
and fair. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) has said that the referendum had been conducted in a climate
of fear.

Lukashenko has dismissed Western criticism. “For ten years you
have been concerned about something or other in Belarus. Try to
calm down and stop accusing us,” he said.

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