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A Cold Night In Minsk For Hundreds Of Protesters

March 21, 2006 -- Several hundred opposition supporters have been spending the night on a central square in Belarus's capital, Minsk, in a protest over official election results that gave incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a third term.

Opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich told reporters early today that authorities detained a number of top opposition activists, including United Civic Party leader Anatoly Lebedko.

The protesters, surrounded by security forces on October Square, have set up a number of tents. Some minor scuffles between protesters and security forces have been reported, but there has been no move by authorities to shut down the opposition camp.

Late on March 20, thousands of protesters held another unsanctioned rally in the square, demanding the cancellation of official election results that gave Lukashenka more than 82 percent of the vote in the March 19 presidential election.

Leading opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who received only 6 percent of the vote according to the official results, has called the election illegitimate and urged supporters to be ready for a long effort to overturn the results.

Russia has accepted the election result and congratulated Lukashenka, but the United States has condemned the poll and backed opposition calls for a new vote.

The United States and European Union have both warned of further sanctions against the Belarusian officials responsible for election fraud and other human rights abuses.

(compiled 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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