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.


* 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.

Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, 60, and three associates were shot to death in a gun battle with a special police paramilitary task force just before midnight, a police official said. He said police had received a tip that Veerappan, who had a $410,000 bounty on his head, was hiding near the village of Paparapatti, 200 miles southwest of Madras, the state capital.

With his trademark handlebar mustache, lanky frame and camouflage clothes, the flamboyant outlaw had enjoyed a level of celebrity comparable to the screen idols of India's Bollywood movie industry.

* 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.

* KABUL, Afghanistan -- A physician helping to organize elections was killed with four other civilians when an explosion tore through their vehicle, police said. He was the first election worker to die in violence since the landmark Oct. 9 vote.

Meanwhile, interim leader Hamid Karzai consolidated his lead at 61.3 percent with one-fifth of the votes counted from the presidential election.


* JERUSALEM -- The captain of a Palestinian arms smuggling ship, whose capture two years ago prompted the United States to shun Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

The Erez Military Court convicted Omar Akkawi, a Palestinian Transportation Ministry employee caught at the Karine A's helm by Israeli commandos in January 2002, of trafficking in weapons. Two other Palestinian crew members were sentenced to 17 years.

-- From News Services