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Europe

Lukashenko Wins in Belarus, Opposition Calls for Protests

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko cruised to election victory Monday as opponents vowed to continue protests against a vote they said had been rigged and the West prepared to give its own assessment.

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"Yes! Yes!" reads the poster with a picture of Lukashenko

Lukashenko, 51, was elected with 82.6 percent of the vote at Sunday's presidential election, compared to 6 percent for his nearest rival, Alexander Milinkevich, said the chairwoman of the central election commission, Lidiya Yermoshina.

The figures remained unchanged as the final ballots were counted, officials quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency said.

There was no immediate reaction from the Belarussian leader, who has held the post since 1994, although he earlier said he expected a "normal result" and would be passing Sunday evening "quietly."

Oppositio n vows n ew protests

Opposition groups vowed to hold a new protest on Monday however after more than 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in a blizzard that whipped through the capital on Sunday -- the largest opposition protest in the city in years.

Wahlen in Weißrussland - Alexander Milinkevich und Frau

Milinkevich (left) and his wife Inna Kuley casting their votes on Sunday

"We will demand that this election be recognized as invalid, including by international organizations," Milinkevich told his supporters from the steps of the trade unions' palace.

Western election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were to publish their findings Monday, which judging from the OSCE's assessments in the run up to the vote were likely to be highly critical.

Russia looked like it would be at odds with the West on the matter, having accused the OSCE of a dangerous political bias in assessing countries that have remained in Moscow's orbit.

A top Russian election monitor, Vladimir Rushailo, voiced satisfaction at the range of foreign observers present for Sunday's vote -- among them many from countries such as China, where democracy is barely practiced.

"The participation of many observers allows a more objective evaluation of the elections, from various points of view," Rushailo said on national television.

West aghast

Wahlen in Weißrussland - Oppositionsanhänger

Supporters of Belarus opposition from Lithuania and Poland hold and wave banned Belarusian flags during a meeting at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border crossing Sunday

There appeared little chance of an improvement in Lukashenko's relations with the West, as the European Union and the United States have been aghast at the prospect of him having a third term.

The West has objected to the state's iron grip on the press, has accused Belarussian authorities of human rights abuses, and took particular exception to a 2004 referendum that enabled Lukashenko's candidacy as it abolished a two-term limit on holding the presidency.

On Sunday Lukashenko branded US President George W. Bush "the number one terrorist on the planet", the latest phase in a war of words that has seen Washington dub Belarus "Europe's last dictatorship."

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