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Some 10,000 Gather In Central Minsk

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.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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