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Minsk Opposition Protest Continues To Grow

MINSK, March 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition supporters are continuing to gather by the thousands in a central square in the Belarusian capital Minsk to protest alleged fraud in today's presidential elections, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported.

"Long live Belarus! Long live Belarus! Long live Belarus!..." they shouted.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported from the scene that between 20,000 and 30,000 protesters have flooded onto the city's October Square, despite the closure of metro and bus service in the area.

Opposition candidates Alyaksandr Milinkevich and Alyaksandr Kazulin had both come to the square to address the crowds.

"The square has been filled with people for three hours now," reported RFE/RL correspondent Alexander Lukashuk from the square. "The last time Minsk saw such a large number of people and such a large number of white-red-and-white flags was when it said good-bye to [Belarusian writer and activist] Vasil Bykau."

"[There are] an incredible number of people, an incredible number of young people," Lukashuk reported. "There are very young and beautiful faces here. And of course there are a lot of white-red-and-white flags, yellow-and-blue [Ukrainian] flags, European Union flags and flags of the Zubr movement."

The head of the Belarusian Central Election Commission, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, said preliminary election results will be announced in the next several hours.

But she said early figures from "closed" polling stations like hospitals showed incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka with an overwhelming lead.

"The incumbent president's victory is even more overwhelming [in military units]," Yarmoshyna said. "He won 98.4 percent of the vote there."

Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 12 years, is seeking an unprecedented third term that would keep him in office until 2011.

(with material from agency reports)


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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