Page last updated at 18:11 GMT, Sunday, 28 September 2008 19:11 UK

Voting ends in Belarus election

Voter in Voronyany (28 September 2008)
Hundreds of observers were on hand in Belarus to monitor the voting

People in Belarus have voted in a parliamentary election which President Alexander Lukashenko says he expects to lead to better relations with the West.

Past polls have been seriously flawed, and Mr Lukashenko has been condemned by the US as the last dictator in Europe.

In a bid to appease his critics, the president ordered some opponents to be freed from prison and allowed around 70 opposition candidates to stand.

But opposition groups said they were not allowed to monitor voting properly.

The leader of the Communist Party, Sergei Kalyakin, said advance voting which began on Tuesday had also given the government an opportunity to cheat.

The chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, denied the accusations and said turnout had reached 59.7% by Sunday afternoon.

The first unofficial results are expected early on Monday.

'Fraudulent' polls

After voting in Sunday's election for the lower chamber of parliament, the House of Representatives, President Lukashenko said he hoped that if the election went smoothly, "the West will recognise Belarus".

Alexander Lukashenko casts his vote (28 September 2008)
You wouldn't have seen the last dictator had you not come here
President Alexander Lukashenko

"Dictator? Last dictator? Fine, let it be so," he told reporters, referring to the label applied by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005.

"You wouldn't have seen the last dictator had you not come here."

Before the election, Mr Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994, insisted that the vote would meet democratic standards and that he hoped some opposition candidates would win seats.

All 110 seats of the House of Representatives in Belarus are currently occupied by politicians who back Mr Lukashenko.

The opposition has united into two blocs for the election, having had no success in the 2004 poll. Most opposition groups boycotted the previous election in 2000.

The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Minsk says opposition posters were on display in the capital ahead of the vote, but that suggestions the government has foresworn its authoritarian ways may be premature.

Analysts have said the election campaign was lacklustre, and that opposition parties had little or no access to the mass media.

As he cast his vote, opposition leader Alexandr Kozulin said he was taking part "to show the international community that the elections are fraudulent".

He said he had "a lot of facts and evidence" to prove the claim.

Correspondents say Mr Lukashenko has been trying to improve relations with the West as his country's ties cool with Russia.

European and US diplomats have suggested that sanctions against Belarusian companies could be lifted if the election is conducted well.

Mr Kozulin said this would mean the Belarus government would have to introduce "concrete actions and real changes for the democratisation of Belarusian society".

Q&A: Belarus elections
26 Sep 08 |  Europe
US lifts some Belarus sanctions
05 Sep 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Belarus
03 Jul 08 |  Country profiles

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