Belarus police warn opposition on eve of vote

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus's state security forces warned the political opposition on Saturday that they would crack down hard on any attempts to whip up tension during Sunday's presidential election.

Opponents of veteran President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and is poised to win a fourth term in office, say they plan to hold protests on Sunday night against electoral malpractice and vote-rigging.

In a joint statement, the police and KGB state security said they had learned of plans by "radically-oriented" political forces "to artificially whip up tension and confrontation in society."

"Law enforcement organs ... will suitably and decisively stop any illegal activities which create a threat to life and the health of the population," it said.

It appealed specifically to young people not to lend their support to appeals "by political adventurers."

At the last election in 2006, demonstrators camped in tents in the city's October Square not far from presidential headquarters until police broke up the protests after five days.

Some of Lukashenko's opponents have announced two separate rallies for Sunday night, both of them focused on October Square, and say they hope to attract tens of thousands of protesters.

Vladimir Neklyayev, head of the opposition Tell the Truth movement, said on Sunday that his supporters intended to go ahead with a peaceful demonstration on the square which is close to the main presidential building.

"The square is the only mechanism for opposing fraudulent elections," he told journalists. "We want an inexcusable vote to be scrapped. Our second demand is for holding new elections, without Lukashenko, in March next year."

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Jon Boyle)


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