Belarusan Leader Claims Victory In Disputed Vote on Term Limits
MINSK, Belarus -- President Alexander Lukashenko said Monday he had won a mandate from voters to stay in power in a weekend referendum scrapping presidential term limits, but foreign observers said the vote process was marred by violations, and thousands of people protested the outcome.
The Central Elections Commission said 77 percent of voters supported the referendum eliminating a two-term limit for presidents. That would allow Lukashenko, an authoritarian who has led the former Soviet republic since 1994, to run again in 2006.
"People in Belarus once again said 'yes' to our course," said Lukashenko, whose crackdown on dissent, independent news media and political opponents has put his nation on an isolated, anti-Western path.
In the parliamentary election held at the same time, the opposition failed to win a single seat in the 110-member assembly. But opposition leaders vowed to use widespread allegations of fraud to mobilize discontent and called for more street protests.
In Washington, the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said that "misconduct continued throughout the voting and vote tabulation process."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent 270 election observers, said the vote "fell significantly short" of democratic standards.
Separately, Belarus authorities reported that an American Internet specialist was arrested by the Belarus KGB for allegedly mishandling funds. Ilya Mafter, a long-term employee of the Open Society Institute, founded by financier George Soros, was also a consultant in Belarus for the U.N. Development Program, the U.N. agency said. He was working in Belarus to expand Internet access, an institute spokeswoman said.
? DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said terrorists were trying to derail President Bush's chances of reelection with their attacks in Iraq.
"I consider the activities of terrorists in Iraq are not as much aimed at coalition forces but more personally against President Bush," Putin said at a news conference after a regional summit.
? MADRID -- Police arrested seven suspected Islamic militants in raids across Spain to foil a planned bomb attack on the nation's High Court, judicial sources said.
The seven suspects, including four Algerians and one Moroccan, were arrested in the southern region of Andalusia, and in Valencia and Madrid.
? MADRAS, India -- India's most wanted bandit, accused of murdering police officers, slaughtering elephants and kidnapping a movie star, was killed in a jungle shootout with police after more than three decades on the run, authorities said.