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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Belarus opposition closes ranks
By Matthew Collin
BBC News

Screen showing Alexander Milinkevich
Alexander Milinkevich wants to unite the opposition
Opposition groups in the former Soviet republic of Belarus have chosen a single candidate to run against the country's long-standing president.

The candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, said only a united opposition could challenge what he called the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko.

This was an important moment for the opposition, which was inspired by the recent Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

The presidential elections are due to be held next year.

The opposition says President Lukashenko, who has led Belarus for more than a decade, has become increasingly authoritarian, suppressing free speech and jailing democratic dissenters.

Its candidate, a former science professor, says he cannot promise victory, but believes it is possible.

Rigging fears

He says he will be out in the streets protesting until the bitter end.

Mr Lukashenko has warned that there will be no revolution in Belarus, saying he will preserve stability, whatever it costs.

As next year's poll approaches, Mr Lukashenko has intensified his attacks on civil rights activists and the independent media.

He has also accused Western governments and neighbouring Poland and Ukraine of sponsoring subversion.

The opposition ran a joint candidate in the last presidential elections in 2001, but he was defeated.

Although many activists say Mr Lukashenko is less popular now, they believe that the polls will be rigged, and that victory can only be won through mass protests.

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