Riot control troops move towards Belarus capital ahead of elections

Minsk - Vehicles carrying riot control troops were Thursday travelling towards the Belarusian capital Minsk, the news website reported, days before presidential elections are due.

But the column of five armoured personnel carriers and ten lorries had not arrived in Minsk by midday, witnesses said.

Presidential elections are scheduled for Sunday, December 19.

President Aleksander Lukashenko, who is running for a record fourth term in office, has declared that he will win the election fairly, without authoritarian tactics.

A police unit equipped with fifteen armoured vehicles carrying water cannons took up positions at a secure government base in the capital earlier this week, according to Thursday's report.

A total of nine opposition candidates are to challenge Lukashenko in Sunday's poll, though political observers in the country are widely predicting a victory for the incumbent.

Opposition leaders have threatened mass street protests in central Minsk should the election be fraudulent. Authorities have banned such demonstrations as a threat to public order.

Lukashenko in a Wednesday meeting with the national security council, shown the Bel-1 television station, warned of severe consequences for opposition leaders and their supporters should they defy the ban.

'God forbid that someone will cross this Rubicon, that they shouldn't even be going near,' Lukashenko said. 'The reaction of law enforcement agencies, and the military, will be adequate and vigorous.'

Lukashenko's opponents have accused him of planning to fix the result of the upcoming vote, in part, by obliging students and state employees to cast early ballots, which would then be falsified by Lukashenko-controlled regional election councils.

More than seven per cent of all registered voters had by Thursday already cast early ballots, the Belapan news agency reported, citing election officials.

But on Thursday Lukashenko spoke out against pressuring voters to cast ballots early, saying 'There is no need for that ... people should not be forced to vote.'


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