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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 15:21 GMT
Early voting under way in Belarus
Poster of candidates in Belarus election
Foreigners will monitor the election - but critics say it will not be fair
Early voting is under way in Belarus, five days before a presidential election is officially due to happen.

Opposition groups say the move is an opportunity for President Alexander Lukashenko to rig the vote.

Main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich has urged people to stay away from the early polls, saying votes will be stolen.

The president, who has been in power for 12 years, changed the constitution to allow his bid for a third term.

Opinion polls suggest President Lukashenko is on course for a landslide victory, as was the case in his previous campaigns.

Widespread practice?

Polling stations opened across the former Soviet republic at 0800 GMT.

Do not under any circumstances vote in the advance poll.... Your votes will, quite simply, be stolen
Alexander Milinkevich
Opposition leader

The Belarus authorities often open polling stations several days in advance of elections.

The procedure is seen by observers as a way of manipulating polls. But Belarus authorities have defended it.

"Ahead-of-schedule voting is practised all over the world," Nikolai Lozovik, Secretary of the Central Electoral Commission, told Itar-Tass news agency.

"Any citizen who is entitled to vote may come to the polling station and cast a ballot ahead of time without giving reasons," he said.

International observers will monitor the election but critics believe they will not be fair.

The United States has described Belarus as Europe's last dictatorship.


SEE ALSO:
Belarus rally marred by arrests
02 Mar 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Belarus
08 Mar 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Belarus
08 Mar 06 |  Country profiles


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