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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Candidates Register for Belarus Poll

MINSK, Belarus -- Belarus' conservative premier and its ousted liberal head of state lead six candidates who have registered in presidential elections likely to determine whether the former Soviet republic moves closer to Russia. Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich, an ardent advocate of Belarus' plans for monetary union with Russia, will be the leading conservative standard-bearer in the June 23 election, for which candidates registered Tuesday. Liberal hopes will ride on Stanislav Shushkevich, who led Belarus to independence and tried to pursue an independent foreign policy and fast-track reforms. He was ousted as parliament chairman in January. Kebich, who calls for cautious economic reform, enjoys the backing of Belarus' heavily government-controlled media. He appears nightly on television talking to voters in the former Soviet republic of 10 million. Shushkevich, who now heads a think-tank in Belarus, believes he can muster the support of liberals, nationalists and intellectuals to win the contest. Belarus, one of the three Slav founder-members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, is one of the most conservative of the former Soviet republics. It has made less progress towards economic reforms than Russia or even neighboring Ukraine. Its separate cultural and political identity was eroded by 70 years of domination by Russia during the Soviet era and the Belarussian language has all but disappeared. Some conservative politicians have sought to improve their chances in the first round by calling for a single candidate to represent their views. Kebich faces three conservatives -- corruption fighter Alexander Lukashenko, Vasily Novikov, a Communist, and Alexander Dubko, who represents the vast collective farm lobby. None has shown any inclination to step aside. Shushkevich will compete for liberal votes with Zenon Poznyak, leader of the nationalist Belarussian Popular Front. Poznyak earned fame by exposing mass killings during the Stalin era.