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Protests Greet Reelection of President in Belarus

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Minsk.

GREGORY FEIFER: The crowds pressed to hear Alexander Milinkevich, the top opposition candidate, who's fast becoming the central symbol of opposition to strong-man President Lukashenko. Between statements to supporters, Milinkevich told NPR the opposition is deciding how to respond to the election.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHANTING)

ALEXANDER MILINKEVICH: (Through translator) Its already perfectly clear there has to be another round of voting. Not the kind we had. It has to be a real election next time.

FEIFER: In the run-up to the elections, hundreds of opposition campaigners were jailed, and all independent newspapers shut down. Milinkevich said the rally showed things are changing in Belarus, and that people are overcoming their fear of the authorities.

MILINKEVICH: This is a free Belarus, a new Belarus, and no one can put it on its knees any longer.

FEIFER: Belarus Union of Journalists president Jon Alitvina(ph) agrees.

JON ALITVINA: (Through translator): I look at my people and I see that everything's all right with us. Victory is still ahead of us. We're on the verge of change.

FEIFER: Earlier in the day, Leonarda Muchina(ph), an opposition election observer at a voting station in central Minsk, said officials had refused to allow her to watch ballot counting, and wouldn't even answer how many people had voted.

LEONARDA MUCHINA: (Foreign spoken)

FEIFER: German legislator Markus Meckel is an election observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Speaking in an opposition rally before the election, he agreed the vote would be rigged.

MARKUS MECKEL: The official results is fixed today, and we know it before.

FEIFER: Aleksander Lubiyetko(ph) is a key opposition figure. He says the authorities' tactics show they want to hold onto power by force. Speaking in his headquarters, guarded by government troops in the tense hours before the demonstration, Lubiyetko complained about government interference, pointing to the fact that his party had been unable to hold a meeting on Election Day.

ALEKSANDER LUBIYETKO: (Through translator) Only half the people showed up, because some of them are in jail, and the others were stopped from traveling from the regions.

FEIFER: Like many casting her ballots yesterday, market vendor Nina Ryduke(ph) says she supports Lukashenko for providing security.

NINA RYDUKE: (Foreign spoken)

FEIFER: Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Minsk. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.