Protests loom in Belarus

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The Independent Online
SECURITY FORCES will be on high alert in Belarus today, when opposition groups are expected to take to the streets to mark what they believe is the last day of Alexander Lukashenko's legal term as president.

Mr Lukashenko extended his term in 1996 in a referendum that was internationally condemned as illegal and remains unrecognised by many Western governments. Under Belarus's previous constitution - which the opposition maintains still applies - today is his final day in office.

The President, who has professed admiration for Adolf Hitler, has vowed to use "the toughest actions within the law" to halt any unauthorised protests by his opponents, who are planning rallies in Minsk, the Belarussian capital. The threat is likely to be taken seriously: in the past, demonstrators have been beaten by baton-wielding police, and flung into prison.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe emerged from talks with the President on Saturday, saying he had agreed to stage free and fair parliamentary elections next year. But his critics are certain to be sceptical, bearing in mind his record. He added a fresh blemish in May, when he blamed an underpass accident, in which 53 people died, on an "excess of democracy".