All presidential candidates of Belarusian election to be known Friday

Belarusian election officials on Friday were to finalize the list of candidates allowed to run in next month's presidential election, sealing the fate of the main opposition contender amid fears he could be taken out of the race. Election officials were voting on whether to grant official election registration to four candidates, including authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is seeking a third term, and Alexander Milinkevich, a former mayor and rights activist supported by most of this nation's beleaguered opposition.

Milinkevich, 58, has accused authorities of attempting to rig the election by depriving the opposition of virtually any representation in election commissions that will monitor the vote and by denying him access to mass media.

He has warned that violence could break out following the balloting, saying Lukashenko's determination to stay in power and widespread doubts about the legitimacy of the election could make for a volatile mix.

A series of popular uprisings have brought opposition leaders to power in several ex-Soviet republics. Lukashenko has vowed that no such revolt would take place in his country, leading many Belarusians to fear that Milinkevich would not be allowed to run.

"If the election commission fails to register Milinkevich, the election would turn into a farce and would lose all sense," said Sergei Kalyakin, Milinkevich's election campaign chief. If he is not allowed to run, Milinkevich has vowed to continue campaigning as if he were a candidate.

He has called on his supporters to gather in Minsk 's central square on Friday to either celebrate his registration or protest the authorities' possible decision to strike him off the ballot.

Authorities have not authorized the gathering. Milinkevich contends that he and Lukashenko each enjoy the support of 25 percent of Belarusians, while the remaining 50 percent are undecided. The claim could not be confirmed since all independent polling agencies have been closed down.

Since coming to power in 1994, Lukashenko, 51, has ruled this nation of 10 million with an iron fist, quashing dissent and maintaining his grip on power through votes dismissed as illegitimate by his opponents and Western governments that have dubbed him Europe's last dictator.

The other would-be presidential candidates include pro-presidential lawmaker Sergei Gaidukevich, 51, who has been accused of corruption in the oil-for-food investigation. Critics have dismissed Gaidukevich's presidential bid as merely an attempt to legitimize the election.

Also running for the presidency is opposition politician Alexander Kozulin, 50, a social democrat who advocates closer ties with Russia . He has served as the dean of the country's main university and was known to expel students for opposition activity, reports the AP.


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