Vote Held In Belarus Amid Opposition Boycott

Polling is taking place in the former Soviet state of Belarus for a parliamentary election being boycotted by the two main opposition parties.

Experts anticipate that Sunday's vote in Belarus will be low keyPolling is taking place in the former Soviet state of Belarus for a parliamentary election being boycotted by the two main opposition parties.

Opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko have urged voters to shun the polls, telling them instead to pick mushrooms or cook beetroot soup.

The vote comes two years after President Lukashenko won a landslide presidential election.

Since then, Belarus authorities have brutally suppressed the opposition.

President Lukashenko is often referred to as Europe's last dictator and has ruled Belarus since 1994.

Eleven political prisoners are currently in jail and Amnesty International says authorities have also detained other opposition activists ahead of the election.

The two strongest opposition parties - United Civic and the BPF - pulled out of the race about a week ago.

'Like a farce'

Two other opposition parties - Just World and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party - are still in the running and members of unregistered opposition movements, such as the Tell the Truth campaign, are listed as unaffiliated candidates.

Mikhail Pashkevich, a leader of Tell the Truth, told the BBC that the election results had been determined in advance.

"There are no elections... in Belarus now, only something like a farce, a play that is named election but is not an election," he said.

Opposition leaders called on voters to do something else - go fishing, visit relatives, pick mushrooms or make soup - rather than vote.

"This is our reaction to the pseudo-elections for the fake parliament," said Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the United Civic Party.

However, officials maintain that democracy is alive and well in Belarus.

Central Election Commission secretary Nikolai Lozovik said the opposition was a "Western creation" and was unpopular in Belarus.

"The opposition does not reflect the people's will," he told the BBC.

"Instead they are working in the interests of those Western forces that are sponsoring them."

Mr Lukashenko's 2010 election victory sparked violent confrontations in the capital Minsk between security forces and thousands of opposition activists who claimed the vote had been rigged.

In the crackdown that followed, scores of opposition activists were arrested and many people, including several candidates who stood against Mr Lukashenko, were jailed.

Belarus has not held an election considered free and fair by Western observers since Mr Lukashenko came to power in 1994.

Observers anticipate that Sunday's vote will once again produce a parliament that will closely follow the party line.