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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President's Allies Win Elections in Belarus

MINSK -- Government loyalists appeared to sweep local elections in Belarus, according to preliminary results released Monday, as President Alexander Lukashenko retained a firm grip over the country despite a bruising oil dispute with Russia.

Belarussian opposition and human rights activists denounced Sunday's vote as rigged, and the United States and the European Union said it failed to meet democratic standards.

"There have been no free and fair elections in Belarus over the past decade, and these local elections weren't an exception," the main opposition leader, Alexander Milinkevich, said.

The U.S. Embassy said Monday that it "deplores Belarus' flawed electoral process," and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said there was "a blatant lack of democratic pluralism" in the elections.

About 300 opposition members took part in the race, but about 100 of them withdrew before the voting, predicting widespread falsification in elections held under close state control. Under Lukashenko's rule, television is state controlled and few independent media are allowed.

Milinkevich, who ran against Lukashenko in a March 2006 presidential vote that was widely criticized in the West, said that at least two opposition candidates had won seats in local legislatures.

Garry Pogonyailo, a lawyer with the Belarussian Helsinki Committee, also said the authorities had done their utmost to prevent the opposition from winning any seats.

"These elections were neither transparent nor fair," Pogonyailo offered.

Pogonyailo pointed at early voting in which one quarter of voters cast ballots, saying the lack of proper controls allowed for abuses.

He also said the authorities had refused to include opposition representatives in local election commissions that counted ballots.

Vyntsuk Vyacherka, the head of the opposition Belarussian Popular Front, said he would appeal what he called flawed election proceedings in Minsk, where he ran for a city council seat. "The authorities openly ignored election rules and standards," he said.

A U.S. Embassy statement said: "As in previous elections, the government of Belarus denied to its citizens their freedom of assembly, association and expression.

"Authorities used intimidation and arbitrary application of registration standards to exclude opposition candidates and severely restricted the access of registered candidates to voters and the mass media."

Central Election Commission spokeswoman Lidiya Yermoshina said 79 percent of the country's 7 million eligible voters cast ballots.

She said 22,640 members of 1,581 local legislatures were elected, but added that it would take longer to say how various political parties had performed.

Casting his ballot Sunday, Lukashenko lashed out at Russia, which suspended its oil shipments to Belarus last week in a dispute over prices, in what appeared to be an effort to bolster his image among Belarussians.