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In Belarus, exit polls show Lukashenko set for fifth term, as expected

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is set for a fifth term in office, with exit polls showing a landslide victory of 80 percent of the vote. The ex-collective farm director has ruled since 1994.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is

set to claim victory for a fifth term,

marking more than 20 years of semi-autocratic rule.

Exit polls show Lukashenko has taken around 80 percent of the vote, slightly higher than in his 2010 victory, which was marred by protests.

Lukashenko, a former collective farm director in the former Soviet republic, has ruled the country since 1994, consolidating an image of strength and stability under his 21-year rule.

The Belarusian president has largely maintained close ties with Russia, which offers discounted energy prices along with favorable trade policies.

However, Lukashenko's Belarus, once described by former US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice as "Europe's last dictatorship," has also witnessed severe conditions for dissenters to the president's longstanding rule.

End of an era?

In 2010, Belarus' presidential election was marred by violence, with several opposition figures jailed, including Mikola Statkevich, who was released in August along with other political prisoners, following a surprise move by Lukashenko's administration.

The West's latest overtures to Minsk reportedly include lifting sanctions on Belarus - and those imposed on Lukashenko - for four months given there are no severe voting irregularities nor a last-minute crackdown on opposition.

While previous elections were deemed unfair, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is monitoring the vote, will provide a report on Monday, after which the

EU is expected to announce the lifting of sanctions.

Lukashenko's thaw with the West follows Belarus' role in mediating Ukrainian, Russian and rebel parties, culminating in the Minsk agreement, which aimed at solidifying a ceasefire between warring factions.

'Untrustworthy'

Meanwhile,

dissident journalist Svetlana Alexievich,

who won the 2015 Nobel Literature Prize, warned of Western rapprochement with Lukashenko's regime.

"Every four years, new European officials come to power and think they can solve the Lukashenko problem without knowing that he is a man who is untrustworthy," Alexievich said on Saturday at a press conference in Berlin.

ls/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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