Russian liberals say Belarus presidential elections were rigged

MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti) - Two liberal Russian politicians said Friday that last weekend's presidential elections in Belarus had been rigged.

"We have no doubt that the elections in Belarus were not free," said deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, head of the Republican Party. "There are some 7,000 polling stations in Belarus, but representatives of opposition candidates were allowed to be election commission members at only three stations, which prevented them from monitoring the vote."

Final results announced by Belarus' Central Election Commission Thursday gave incumbent leader Alexander Lukashenko 83% of the vote with all ballots counted. Opposition groups denounced the results as fraudulent, and called for a re-run.

The head of the Union of Right Forces' political council, Nikita Belykh, said: "The main violations occurred at the pre-election stage and during the vote count," adding that on election day there were only technical failures, so "most international observers discovered no violations."

Ryzhkov said observing elections was pointless in Belarus, as "you are placed 7 meters from the table where votes are being counted, and you cannot understand what pile the ballot papers are put into."

Former collective farm boss Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994 and has been widely criticized in the West for autocratic ways despite maintaining support at home, trounced second-placed Alexander Milinkevich, who received just 6.1% of the vote and had forecast that his main rival would sweep to an easy victory before any ballots had even been cast.

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