The commission said after counting all the ballots Lukashenko had received 82.6% of all votes and his opponent Alexander Milinkevich had received 6%.

   

"Alexander Lukashenko has been elected for a third term in office," Interfax news agency quoted Commission head Lidiya Yermoshina as saying on Monday. "Following the procession of 100 percent of the ballots, Lukashenko collected 82.6% of the votes."

   

The full results were announced just hours after about 10,000 people rallied in heavy snow in the central October Square of the capital when polls closed on Sunday, a protest unmatched in recent years.

The opposition supporters gathered on a main square in central Minsk as polls closed in the disputed presidential election on Sunday, shouting "Long Live Belarus!" and chanting the name of the main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich.


Milinkevich denounced the election and demanded a repoll.

"We demand new, honest elections," Milinkevich told the crowd through a small bullhorn. "This was a complete farce". 

There were fears of violent confrontation as Milinkevich had called on supporters to come to the square to protest against the vote whose official results he said he would not accept. The government had warned them that election-day gatherings would not be allowed.

 

Orange Revolution

 

Milinkevich said it would be a
peaceful demonstration 

Some waved a national flag that Lukashenko banned in favour of a Soviet-style replacement, as well as European Union flags.

 

People blew horns and shouted "Mi-lin-ke-vich!" - echoing the much larger crowds on Kiev's Independence Square in Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, which has inspired the opposition in neighbouring Belarus. Milinkevich later arrived at the square.

 

"I came here to find out the real results of the election," said Veronika Danilyuk, 19, a student. "I believe that he's the only one who can guarantee freedom and fairness to our country.

 

"The Belarusian mentality is to sit at home and watch their stupid state TV," said another protester, who gave only his first name, Ivan, for fear of reprisals. "I came to hear a brave man speak."

 

Despite the government ban on protests on Sunday, there was no immediate move by the police to disperse the crowd. While police closely guarded the hulking building facing the square and temporarily housing the election commission, they did not surround protesters.

 

Opposition stand
 

Lukashenko secured  82.6% of
the vote  

Earlier in the day, Milinkevich said the opposition would not recognise the results.

 

"These elections will be recognised neither by us nor by democratic countries," Milinkevich told a news conference. He derided the exit polls, saying: "People will laugh at those figures.

 

"In Poland, people began laughing at communist authorities and this is when Solidarity won. We are getting there," he said. "I won't be surprised if someone allows himself to claim 120%."

 

Lukashenko said he would prevent the kind of mass rallies that helped to bring opposition leaders to power in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan after disputed elections, raising the threat of a forceful government response.

 

Threat of force

 

Opposition supporters chanted
slogans against Lukashenko 

The use or threat of force neutralised opposition efforts to protest against vote results in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan last year, and a bloody government crackdown in Uzbekistan left hundreds dead.

 

"It will be a peaceful demonstration. We will come out with flowers," Milinkevich said after casting his ballot. "We do not intend to elect a president on the square. We will tell people the truth."

 

Restaurants and stores on a main street near Oktyabrskaya square shut early, and subway trains skipped the stop nearest to the square.

 

The state has mounted a campaign of threats and allegations of violent, foreign-backed overthrow plots that its opponents say is directed at frightening people off the streets and justifying the potential use of force against protesters.

 

On Thursday, the KGB chief accused the opposition of plotting to seize power with foreign help by detonating bombs and sowing chaos on election day, and warned that protesters could be charged with terrorism.

 

The Central Election Commission said 87.8% of voters had cast ballots by 6pm (1600GMT), far above the 50% mark needed to make the election valid. Yermoshina said about 30% voted last week in early balloting, which the opposition says is especially vulnerable to fraud.

 

International relations

 

Bush called Belarus an outpost of
tyranny in Europe

Western countries have forged close ties with the opposition and made no secret of their contempt for the ruler of what Washington calls an outpost of tyranny in Europe. It condemned the campaign as "seriously flawed and tainted".

 

While Russia's relations with Belarus are sometimes strained, the Kremlin is wary of losing its only ally between its western border and Nato countries, and has signalled approval of a Lukashenko victory.

 

Lukashenko dismissed international criticism. "We in Belarus are conducting the election for ourselves," he said. "As for sweeping accusations, I've been hearing them for 10 years. I've already gotten used to them."

 

A dictator to his critics, many Belarusians see the 51-year-old former collective farm manager as having brought stability after the uncertainty that followed the 1991 Soviet collapse.