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    Lukashenko takes predictable landslide election win

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    "Alexander Lukashenko has been elected for a third term," Lidiya Ermoshina told a news conference, telling the assembled press that he had garnered 82.6% of the vote.

    MINSK, March 20 (RIA Novosti) - Election authorities in Belarus said Monday that incumbent Alexander Lukashenko had won more than 80% of the vote with all ballots counted in the country's president election to take a landslide that had been widely predicted by both his supporters and opposition representatives.

    "Alexander Lukashenko has been elected for a third term," Lidiya Ermoshina told a news conference, telling the assembled press that he had garnered 82.6% of the vote.

    The former collective farm boss, who has been in power since 1994 and has been largely criticized in the West for autocratic ways, was streets ahead of second-placed opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich, who received 6% of the vote and had forecast that his main rival would sweep to an easy triumph before any ballots had even been cast. Chairman of Liberal Democrats Sergei Gaidukevich and leader of the Social Democratic Party Gramada Alexander Kozulin gained 3.5% and 2.3%, of the vote respectively.

    Ermoshina said turnout had been 92.6% and no incidents or serious infringements of election procedures had been registered by either the commission or international observers. The official added that that the commission would most likely announce the official results by weekend.

    However, members of the opposition in the former Soviet republic have questioned the returns, claiming wide-scale ballot-rigging in favor of the president, who Washington has dubbed "Europe's last dictator." About 2,500 supporters of Milinkevich took to the streets of the capital, Minsk, in his support on Saturday the day before voting, but Ermoshina dismissed the opposition's claims.

    "[You] need to know how to lose gracefully," she said, adding that the commission would hold a news conference at 11:00 local time (9 a.m. GMT).

    The incumbent authorities have already pledged to deal firmly with any disorder, and Milinkevich for one has played down talk of any events echoing the transfer of power in Ukraine's "orange revolution" after the disputed presidential election there in 2004.

    Reports from observer missions representing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose association of former Soviet republics, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world's largest regional security grouping, are also expected Monday.

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