The central electoral commission in Belarus says President Alexander Lukashenko has won overwhelming approval in a referendum on whether he can run for a third term in office in 2006. Lukashenko needed the backing of at least 50 percent of registered voters to alter a constitutional provision limiting him to two terms. The country’s top electoral official says 77 per cent of registered voters supported the idea, with turnout as high as 90 per cent.An independent survey suggests President Lukashenko did not get enough votes to change the constitution. Even as the vote was taking place, young activists threw out leaflets in the capital Minsk, saying they were fighting a dictatorship. At the same time state television broadcast results of a government-endorsed exit poll, contrary to Belarus’ electoral law. The European Union and the United States had previously expressed strong doubts that the elections, in which people were also voting for the largely powerless parliament, would meet democratic standards. Opposition leaders say the vote was rigged to allow Lukashenko, who has led the ex-Soviet republic since 1994, to stay in power. His rule has been characterised by the closure of independent media. Yesterday a journalist for Russian television, who has co-written a book critical of Lukashenko, was reportedly found badly beaten in a Minsk hospital, hours after police detained him on hooliganism charges.
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