BELARUS SAYS YES TO LUKASHENKO

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MINSK, October 18 (RIA Novosti) - Lydia Yermoshina, chair of the Belarussian Central Election Commission, said 77.3% of the votes on the referendum to allow President Lukashenko were in favor of it.

According to her, 89.7% of the registered voters voted in the referendum.

She explained that support from over 50% of the constituents was needed to amend the constitution. Ms. Yermoshina said she was not surprised by the high voter turn out because the referendum was very important for the country's development.

On October 17, the Belarussians were asked whether they agreed to change the constitution and allow Mr. Lukashenko, who has been in power for 10 years, to be reelected for a third term in 2006.

"You are voting not so much for me, Alexander Lukashenko," Mr. Lukashenko said in an address on the eve of the referendum, "as for the clear prospects of the country, certainty and stability in Belarusian society and the future of your children and grandchildren."

On the eve of the referendum, the public sector wages and pensions in Belarus were increased by 50%.

In Belarus the state controls the economy and refused to privatize state enterprises, which was criticized by Western experts and has upset Russian investors. Nevertheless, Belarus has shown impressive growth in gross indices.

According to the Statistics Ministry, since the beginning of this year, the GDP has grown by more than 10% and inflation has dropped to 9%. Experts said this was because of the advantages of the open Russian market and the advantageous tariffs for Russian energy resources.

The West has already said the referendum was undemocratic and the United States has even threatened to apply economic sanctions. Russia said the referendum was the internal affair of Belarus.

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