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Boycotted Belarus election declared valid

  |   Sept. 25, 2012 at 6:30 AM
MINSK, Belarus, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Enough residents voted in otherwise-boycotted Parliamentary elections in Belarus to make the results valid, the country's Central Election Commission has declared.

The commission ruled Sunday that more than 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the elections for all 110 seats in the Belarus National Assembly, the nation's lower house of Parliament, RIA Novosti reported.

The country's two main opposition parties -- the United Civic and BPF parties --boycotted the polls because of alleged fraud, urging voters to skip what they called "pseudo-elections" for the "rubber-stamp" lower house.

Opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko contend Parliament has lost its independence since he took power in 1994.

The absence of the two parties and their members was seen as a possible problem for Lukashenko but the Central Election Commission said Sunday the 50 percent threshold was met.

"The appearance of half of the voters on the list allows us to declare the election valid," the commission said in a statement, asserting turnout was 65.9 percent by 6 p.m. Sunday.

Turnout was weakest in Minsk, where just 39.7 percent voted, the commission said.

A statement issued by the two main opposition parties as well as Belarusian left party Fair World, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gromada), For Freedom movement and the Speak the Truth civil campaign urged the international community to disregard the elections, the Russian news agency reported.

They urged them to "increase political pressure on the Belarusian government to stop repression, free political prisoners and return rights and freedoms to all those arrested for political motives."

They contended opposition candidates in the campaign were "illegally barred" from free access to the electorate -- even by the standards of Belarus' restrictions -- while the election itself was characterized by "interference by state officials at all levels."

However, election observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States -- the loose political association of former Soviet republics -- contended the elections met international standards.

"In my opinion, the electoral process is proceeding normally," CIS Parliamentary Assembly leader Roman Amburtsev told RIA Novosti. "International and nation observers are taking part at the polling stations."

Lukashenko blasted the boycotting candidates Sunday, calling them "cowards," ITAR-Tass reported.

"If you start political struggle, fight to the end," he said. "A coward cannot be a successful politician."

Saying he hoped the new Parliament will be made up of "highly professional lawmakers," the Belarusian leader called for better ties with the European Union and pointed to the elections as evidence of his country's success, in which "no revolutions, riots (or) upheavals" are necessary.

Lukashenko's own disputed re-election in 2010, however, was marked by thousands of protesters trying to storm the nation's government headquarters. They were met by armed riot squads and were beaten by plainclothes police officers, witnesses said.

The protesters denounced Lukashenko's then-16-year rule as an authoritarian dictatorship.

EU Parliament President Martin Schulz issued a blistering statement before this weekend's elections, calling on Belarus to allow opposition candidates access to voters while denouncing the "continued abuse of human rights, the rule of law and democratic values" in the country, Deutsche Welle reported.

"The first step must be the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and their full rehabilitation," he said.

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