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  Friday, December 13, 2019
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Belarusian election officials said they would announce Thursday the official results of last Sunday's presidential election
Belarusian election officials said they would announce Thursday the official results of last Sunday's presidential election, as opposition supporters in the country's capital continued their demonstration calling for a fresh vote. Provisional results announced by the Central Election Commission Monday gave incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko 82.6% of the vote with all ballots counted. Opposition groups denounced the results as fraudulent, and called for a re-vote. Demonstrators who took to the streets Monday spent another night on Minsk's central Oktyabrskaya Square, despite temperatures of well below freezing. The number of people gathered on the square to support the opposition in their protest had dwindled to an estimated 800 by Thursday morning. But cracks appeared in the opposition front Wednesday, as Alexander Kozulin accused fellow presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich of breaking an agreement to stop the protests in preparation for a large-scale rally March 25. Amid fears of possible clashes between protesters and police, Milinkevich said demonstrators would not storm the presidential residence on March 25, and the demonstration would be peaceful. March 25 is known as Freedom Day, an unofficial holiday marking the day when Belarus declared independence in 1918, and a traditional day for opposition demonstrations. Former collective farm boss Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994 and has been widely criticized in the West for autocratic ways, trounced second-placed Alexander Milinkevich, who received just 6% of the vote and had forecast that his main rival would sweep to an easy victory before any ballots had even been cast. Liberal Democrats chairman Sergei Gaidukevich and Social Democratic Party Gramada leader Kozulin gained 3.5% and 2.3% of the vote, respectively. Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose union of ex-Soviet republics, said the elections were in line with international standards. The United States and the European Union, however, have called for a re-run and said they are considering imposing sanctions against Belarus. Washington has dubbed Lukashenko "Europe's last dictator" for his alleged authoritarianism, though he enjoys support in his homeland for providing relative economic stability in comparison with other former Soviet states. Sunday's elections were held amid intense international scrutiny and what Lukashenko Monday termed "unprecedented pressure from abroad" and an "aggressive opposition profile". The head of Belarus' security service said a few days before the elections he had evidence that the United States and Georgia were backing efforts to overthrow Lukashenko by force. Stepan Sukharenko showed a press conference in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, a video of an interview with a man he said was one of those involved in the plot. The man said he had undergone training in a camp in Georgia, after which a colonel from the Georgian security services and American instructors had conducted examinations. He said the Americans had told them to bomb four polling stations at schools in Minsk during voting.
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